You Got W Song, Man

By Martin Espada

for Robert Creeley (1926—2005)

You told me the son of Acton’s town nurse
would never cross the border
into Concord, where the Revolution
left great houses standing on Main Street.
Yet we crossed into Concord, walking
through Sleepy Hollow Cemetery
to greet Thoreau, his stone
stamped with the word Henry
jutting like a gray thumbnail
down the path from Emerson
and his boulder of granite.
We remembered Henry’s night in jail,
refusing tax for the Mexican War,
and I could see you hunched with him,
loaning Henry a cigarette, explaining
the perpetual wink of your eye
lost after the windshield
burst in your boyhood face.
When Emerson arrived
to ask what you and Henry
were doing in there, you would say:
You got a song, man, sing it.
You got a bell, man, ring it.

You hurried off to Henry in his cell
before the trees could bring their flowers
back to Sleepy Hollow.
You sent your last letter months ago
about the poems you could not write,
no words to sing when the president swears
that God breathes the psalms of armies in his ear,
and flags twirl by the millions
to fascinate us like dogs at the dinner table.
You apologized for what you could not say,
as if the words were missing teeth
you searched for with your tongue,
and then a poem flashed across the page,
breaking news of music interrupting news of war:
You got a song, man, sing it.
You got a bell, man, ring it.

Today you died two thousand miles from Sleepy Hollow,
somewhere near the border with México, the territory
Thoreau wandered only in jailhouse sleep.
Your lungs folded their wings in a land of drought
and barbed wire, boxcars swaying intoxicated at 4 AM
and unexplained lights hovering in the desert.
You said: There’s a lot of places out there, friend,
so you would go, smuggling a suitcase of words
across every border carved by the heel
of mapmakers or conquerors, because
you had an all-night conversation with the world,
hearing the beat of unsung poems in every voice,
visiting the haunted rooms in every face.
Drive, you said, because poets must
bring the news to the next town:
You got a song, man, sing it.
You got a bell, man, ring it.

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