~This poem previously appeared in Callaloo (1999).
Improvisation #2: Charlie Parker Dies for Our Sins
exhale a blue dream and follow it up
hear heaven sing back to you
its majestic tone flatted a ¼ step as
it riffs your breath
don’t look down
Hail Mary and Praise Jesus will not save you though
a needle can prick the pain into
a single sixteenth under your skin
Thou shalt not wear brown skin boldly.
Thou shalt not cry in laughing notes.
Thou shalt not wallow in the bottom to reach the top.
these songs will be a burning bush in your mouth
the notes will buoy you up til you are
spoonfeeding each vibration
into God’s allergic ear.
God himself will remind you that
the wages of sin are death.