Metal Poem
is how Baraka described John Tchicai’s deploying the horn
like a kind of war machine before either man’s lungs were left empty
as a shipwreck, bodies still, stoic as stone & buried deep. Mainstream pop
had not yet given John his proper shine,
& so I sometimes like to think of the phrase as a chamber
with no flash or flame to kill the dim, so black it’s blank, the lead

-off to some broader claim about what touch compels, or unmakes. Any leader
-less man will cut holes in the world if you let him breathe, I think. Every horn
holds a history of violence. Animals slain for the sake of sound. Chamber
music born of plundered bone. My entire block is metal poem. Endless empty
school desks mourned by shoes hung from telephone wire, so high they catch the shine
of dawn before anything living. And the beat goes on. Staccato pop

of steel a call to pray. Blood-stained denouement. Pop
hears the family car backfire & dreams of Vietnam, lead
spray autographing his left side from boot to hip. Sundays, he loved to shine
our shoes & skin until both glowed like opal. Sharp as a horn
-bill’s kiss, my daddy was, before the weight of an empty
ledger winnowed him, left his chest hollow as the chamber

of a gun in the hands of a man six bodies deep into his rage, every chamber
of his tome-thick heart falling slack. The day it all went dark, Pop
barely spoke for more than a few clicks of the clock’s one good hand. Empty
quiet, where once was laughter so full, we felt when it fell to the floor. Who will lead
or love us now, the people thought, when Moses melted that metal god from horn
to hoof, made them drink. For weeks, their insides shine

with the light of the fallen. Little novae. Little faiths aflame. O, how I wished to shine
the way Pop did when it came time for penance; my mother’s stare, a chamber
of horrors, pulling names from him till they lie like fresh kill on our kitchen table, hornets
filling corpses with chatter. Every morning, the same perverse pop
quiz: where have you been? He responds as any weapon might. Leaden
expression to quell her pursuit. Either hand empty

apart from the car keys he will use to open the air between us again, empty
out our unearned dreams. His love for the idea of us never fails to shine
through. But for how long can you ask a man to lead
a life he never yearned for? Silence each chamber
clicking inside of him, coaxing both feet forward, demanding he pop
his son in the mouth for calling him phantom when he means to say my heart is a horn

in a hole in the earth is an empty cell cleansed of sunshine is a dead man’s chamber

nothing worth dying for inside of it is a lead balloon is a prop
gun in a time of war is a single splintered thorn