RIP Jayne Cortez

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RIP Jayne Cortez

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Edited: Dec 29, 2012, 9:08 am

RIP Jayne Cortez (1936-2012), the African-American jazz poet, author, community activist, and founder of the Organization of Women Writers of Africa. She authored 10 books of poetry, and won several awards, including the American Book Award in 1980 and the Langston Hughes Award for excellence in the arts and letters. She married the legendary jazz saxophonist Ornette Coleman at the age of 18, and became famous in her own right, as she created her own jazz band, Jayne Cortez and the Firespitters, in which she read her poems backed by her musicians. I saw her perform in San Francisco in 2007 with her son Denardo Coleman, an established drummer and producer, one night after he played with his father during that year's San Francisco Jazz Festival.

San Francisco Chronicle article: Poet Jayne Cortez makes heady music with Ornette Coleman sidemen (2007 article which describes the two concerts I attended)


Dec 29, 2012, 9:15 am

Talking About New Orleans
by Jayne Cortez

Talking about New Orleans
About deforestation & the flood of vodun paraphernalia
the Congo line losing its Congo
the funeral bands losing their funding
the killer winds humming intertribal warfare hums into
two storm-surges
touching down tonguing the ground
three thousand times in a circle of grief
four thousand times on a levee of lips
five thousand times between a fema of fangs
everything fiendish, fetid, funky, swollen, overheated
and splashed with blood & guts & drops of urinated gin
in syncopation with me
riding through on a refrigerator covered with
asphalt chips with pieces of ragtime music charts
torn photo mug shots & pulverized turtle shells from Biloxi
me bumping against a million-dollar oil rig
me in a ghost town floating on a river on top of a river
me with a hundred ton of crab legs
and no evacuation plan
me in a battered tree barking & howling with abandoned dogs
my cheeks stained with dried suicide kisses
my isolation rising with a rainbow of human corpse &
fecal rat bones
where is that fire chief in his big hat
where are the fucking pumps
the rescue boats
& the famous coalition of bullhorns calling out names
hey I want my red life jacket now
& I need some sacred sandbags
some fix-the-levee-powder
some blood-pressure-support-juice
some get-it-together-dust
some lucky-rooftop-charms &
some magic-helicopter-blades
I'm not prepared
to live on the bottom of the water like Oshun
I don't have a house built on stilts
I can't cross the sea like Olokun
I'm not equipped to walk on water like Marie Laveau
or swim away from a Titanic situation like Mr. Shine
Send in those paddling engineers
I'm inside of my insides
& I need to distinguish
between the nightmare, the mirage,
the dream and the hallucination
Give me statistics
how many residents died while waiting
how many drowned
how many suffocated
how many were dehydrated
how many were separated
how many are missing
how many had babies
and anyway
who's in charge of this confusion
this gulf coast engulfment
this displacement
this superdome shelter
this stench of stank
this demolition order
this crowded convention center chaos
making me crave solitary confinement

Am I on my own
exhausted from fighting racist policies
exhausted from fighting off sex offenders
exhausted from fighting for cots for tents for trailers
for a way out of this anxiety this fear this emptiness
this avoidance this unequal opportunity world of
disappointments accumulating in my undocumented eye
of no return tickets

Is this freedom is this global warming is this the new identity
me riding on a refrigerator through contaminated debris
talking to no one in particular
about a storm that became a hurricane
& a hurricane that got violent and started
eyeballing & whistling & stretching toward
a category three domination that caught me in
the numbness of my own consciousness
unprepared, unprotected and
made more vulnerable to destabilization
by the corporate installation of human greed, human poverty
human invention of racism & human neglect of the environment

I mean even Buddy Bolden came back to say
move to higher ground
because a hurricane will not
rearrange its creativity for you
& the river will meet the ocean in
the lake of your flesh again
so move to higher ground
and let your jungle find its new defense
let the smell of your wisdom restore the power of pure air
& let your intoxicated shoreline rumble above & beyond the
water-marks of disaster

I'm speaking of New Orleans of deportation
of belching bulldozers of poisonous snakes
of bruised bodies of instability and madness
mechanism of indifference and process of elimination
I'm talking about transformation about death re-entering life with
Bonne chance, bon ton roulé, bonjour & bonne vie in New Orleans, bon

From On the Imperial Highway: New and Selected Poems by Jayne Cortez