Playing with Woe

The protestations 
— the kicking and screaming —
where did we think horsehairs
came from
how do you get chicken soup
if not from a chicken

what did we really think 
of this reality thing

at night, unguarded 
in our heart of hearts
at the poker game, 
hurtling in the dark
do we bet on ourselves
as Americans

water and blood,
and skin and porosities and bloomy smells
from closeness, from love,
what did we think bodies were made of
if not bodies that touch and hold,
that tremble, improvise endless encounters until they 

don’t you don’t 
go down a dark alley lightly
even if you are stupid, or American

you go to the Blues
straight-up, all-American art
lugging lowdown bad news
you moan and groan

knowing reality is your dance partner
not asking who leads

you begin to play with woe
compete, restate, elaborate,
find the slinky horn, mockery,
human pulse in the drum beat

tragedy is to be stuck in a single mode
and joy improvisational — all elegance,
meditation, intentional 

“Joy is not for the faint of heart,”
says Robin Coste Lewis, riffing on Clifton
as I riff on Albert Murray, my mother,
Getting old is not for babies.

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