Jon Tribble







Montage for Langston


Jazz wasn’t born in Joplin or Lawrence, Lincoln or Cleveland—but it was

anywhere you listened to the weary blues of everyday hardships,

music of the common voice singing uncommon truths, waiting to

explode from Harlem streets, from an America of promises as

simple as they were pushed aside, ignored, broken, or deferred.


Music in the cadence of prayer rises to a stream of complaints ready to

explode from classrooms, lunch counters, stores and factories where the

river of  indignities spills past all levees. No one expecting life to be a

crystal stair—but a fair chance owed, an opportunity for a dream that won’t

explode into shards of disappointment, nickel and dime frustration no

river can wash down its ancient banks, anger no nation can contain for long.


Learn by teaching, teach by learning, the page coming out of you;

anywhere you listened to the world you found the words,

news in your poems of tomorrow’s headlines, of today’s blues and future

glory and revelation that men and women of this world make into a

simple fact, an understanding that must still grow deep before us,

traveling from one generation to the next until your theme becomes

one voice speaking for many from many, a brassy trumpet of good

news that is overdue judgment and undeniable justice for all.


Human blood in human veins, we heal our sores together or fall

under the same blade slicing out the disease. There are no shortcuts to

glory, the distance from Harper’s Ferry to Lenox Avenue is measured in

human lives, in the families we lose when the revolution

explodes our history, changes the music around us from a long lament to a

simple pure note of celebration that sings out proud and true.




Closing The Heights


after Bambi (1942) and The Last Picture Show (1971)


First dark and last, if that last

were a town like Anarene, Texas,

and not an era ending one locked

door at a time, like Anarene, Texas.


We stood outside, an impatient line

beside the curling wall of glass bricks

that glowed cloudy-clear warm like

the final halogen bulb would flicker


in the projector’s shielded heart

on that September night I would

close these doors a last time nearly

twenty years later in 1985.


But this was the 1960s,

and a sister and brother and three-

year-old me kept shuffling in our

tight and always seemingly new


Buster Browns as we crept closer

to Thumper and shy Flower and

the bright-eyed Prince, a late March

afternoon I imagine but don’t


remember beyond the Technicolor

forest suddenly transformed,

a world of yellow orange red flame

and smoke’s shadow I woke to


frightened and confused and grumpy,

a littlest brother annoyed with

a sister’s tears for a death I couldn’t

then fathom, only a shot in the dark.


The Heights marquee one of the last

vestiges unchanged by those years

when I climbed up and out to pull

off all the heavy maroon letters


except the “C_L_O_S_E_D,”

the rest already auctioned and

sold along with the soon-to-be-

unbolted rows of theater chairs,


popcorn machine, and 1940s

art deco fixtures still unbroken,

whatever memories had market

value for the neighborhood


of living spirits haunted by

this shell of a movie palace

more prized as real estate than

cinema in a multiplex future.


My assistant manager helped me

hoist the red carpet rolled out

the night before to the flat roof

and with the champagne chilling


in the icemaker, I waited for Dawn

to join me to attend the sky’s

promised late summer meteor show

and watch the stars till morning.


I had viewed the final screening

through the projection room’s

tiny window, the over-dressed

Little Rock audience settling in for


the black-and-white Bogdanovich

classic but soon fidgeting in their

finery and expensive seats like

a sour child at a great-great aunt’s


funeral.  I stretched my legs,

took a turn from the bow-tied ushers

to patrol the aisles, and I stopped

at the front to see the crowd

quiet and still as they looked up

at Cybill Shepherd’s Jacy Farrow

stripping awkwardly at the pool party,

stumbling on the diving board


and tossing her underwear

in the surfacing boy’s face before

slipping into the water, her

performance as petulant


and silly as a childish version

of selfish love.  I was no Sam

the Lion, but that next night

the roof at least was mine,


and Dawn and I toasted the empty

darkened screen below us that

was soon to be pulled down

and packed off to El Dorado


or Malvern or Searcy, some town

small enough to hold on to

the bigger past a little longer.

Dawn’s old boyfriend


had resurfaced last weekend

on a Labor Day family lake trip

and she wasn’t sure anymore

of what her future meant or


the way it was unspooling

around her and as her hands

framed my face we froze

in a timeless movie still.


I wish I had seen some sign

like searchlights crossing

in the dark above but there were

only her brown eyes like


a startled deer’s script

for flight, and I knew then

like Sonny knew when he

returned to Ruth Popper

that some things are necessary

and unforgivable, that truth

and touch are not a promise,

just a wish. Never you mind.


Alone with the sound of my

footsteps, I checked the exits

one last time, stared back

at the empty house I had


seen many nights filled

with eight hundred fifty faces

shining in the reflected light

and shadows, an expectant


congregation awaiting each

new sermon of story and scene,

and for a moment I saw them

there again, saw myself back


in those early flames consuming

the world I woke to with each

furious wave of angry color

crashing around until escape


opened and my world was saved.

But it passed.  The reels still rested

on the slick marble floor, awaiting

Film Transit to disappear with this


one hundred eighteen minutes

of loss, and only the creeping

gloom remained as I headed out

into the uncertain morning air.




 “Chemistry of an Equation: Portrait of Adrian”


Elemental fire reaching out from the smith’s hands:

days and nights shaping and reshaping what her mind


now creates, fixes as part of the impermanent world—

art taking root, growing from the glass, from her heat.

Metal transformed from current malaise to possibility;


art taking root, growing from the glass, from her heat,

days and nights shaping and reshaping what her mind—


elemental fire—reaching out from the smith’s hands

re-invents as physical form for words, as the language of

art taking root, growing from the glass, from her heat.


Metal transformed from current malaise to possibility—

art taking root, growing from the glass, from her heat


to new meaning, spark and truth wed, revealed by

elemental fire reaching out from the smith’s hands,

justifying the testimony of copper, silver, and gold,


keeping a faith that the faithless do not see exists:

art, taking root, growing from the glass, from her heat.











Short Bio



Jon Tribble is the managing editor of Crab Orchard Review and the series editor of the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry published by Southern Illinois University Press. He is the recipient of a 2003 Artist Fellowship Award in Poetry from the Illinois Arts Council and his poems have appeared in journals and anthologies, including Ploughshares, Poetry, Crazyhorse, Quarterly West, and The Jazz Poetry Anthology. His work was selected as the 2001 winner of the Campbell Corner Poetry Prize from Sarah Lawrence College. He teaches creative writing and literature, and directs undergraduate and graduate students in internships and independent study in editing and literary publishing for the Department of English at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.




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