journalism in verse

"Leeches" 1983

X + X = Bebop = SAMO ©

in Culture by

Crown or arrow or dogbone or chicken or skeleton illuminated by a narrow coldness
running through the body

At some point the music went to sleep for the night but Basquiat kept painting
a version of feathers and knife blades

the line of his eye covered and boxed
he drew the statue of liberty and Sugar Ray Robinsons big mouth

At some point, the music
no the music is not separate but a surface of relief

he assembled
and kept trying to find his way out

of the price of
a superstar list

at auction his soul and at auction his need

FEET
bottomless pig sandwich
X
X
X

In defense of this the canvas turns
yellow

Reiteration
yellow copyright symbols and a red fish
we see sun as a function of time

With the script of his achy smile quartered
into arrows and life preservers
he looked toward the onslaught of blackening sound

We dont walk here much in the crowded riot of his mind
— only at night
above police tape

Charlie Parkers dead
and he died
playing bebop
and Basquiat keeps
playing bebop with his black paint brushes

All detail got noisy when a word was repeated
his hand airplane flying in the cosmos of line

these were his sufferings the best way he could think of
to teach us
to lie about our reckless pocket of value

At auction someone bought five thousand dollars on a plate of brown
at auction his soul and at auction his need

and I cant stop listening to those straight lines of jazz and high pitched ladders
the naked apartment of swift notes

how he wrote X and he wrote the visage of X the repeated mark
of fast lines crossing to tenderness
always a pious explication of blue paint

Paint drove him to the underworld it repeated the window frame

we cant stop watching the compass of hands
though his hands stopped configuring the compass of future

All eyes for the little playground of scribbles
where he learned to say farewell in capital letters

Painting a conversation
his secret museum of eggs + bacon transformed to X which was a proposal

X on a torso X on the incessant hum of
pasty pink
X on a painted refrigerator the sound of a train

and in the gold box a dehydrated leech
where he marked plate four: salt with a

Black his haptic decoy for sense his organizing
principle an example of length
and incline of sums

the accumulation of stick figures or an eye grasped in a circle of contours
veni vidi vici an impasto background of
latin
that isnt what happens to eyes we say

Paint drove him to the underworld it repeated the window frame

the X is now my neighbor
he said
he knew how to paint the scar-map of Charlie Parkers ear

nows the time
each arrow

the dislocation of

nows the time to figure out
what color bebop would have to be

He didnt expect anything he could have written himself into already

without the constant bassline
music smelled like death
a heavy thing hurts when it

he lost no time nows the
nows the time
reason burns now

we are watching an ordinary motion and now we are stuck in the daydream
this was his indigo his oilstick
running away

nows the time
now


Read More:
Jean-Michel Basquiat. Popping the White Art Bubble. (Black History Month Series) [Tuc Magazine]
Jean-Michel Basquiat and “The Art of (Dis)Empowerment” (2000) [ASX]
The Unknown Notebooks of Jean-Michel Basquiat [New York Times]

Lauren Camp is the author of three books, most recently One Hundred Hungers, winner of the Dorset Prize (Tupelo Press, 2016). Her poems have appeared in New England Review, Poetry International, At Length, Beloit Poetry Journal, and as a Poem-a-Day for Poets.org. Other literary honors include the Margarte Randall Poetry Prize, the Anna Davidson Rosenberg Award, a Black Earth Institute Fellowship. This piece was originally published in The Sow’s Ear.

“Leeches” (1983) by Jean-Michel Basquiat via Georgetown University.

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