POETRY – 5 Poems by Bernard James

Anniversaire sur la rue de Chartres


I will pluck and tease a
smile from your special day.


Feed you Red Beans
and Po Boys and
candlelit Étouffée.


Crack jokes that tickle and
shake you to the bone.


Grip hands as we glide
over passages of
cobble and stone.


Dodge puddle strewn surfaces,
dew-damp slick from the rain.


Savor tongue-cum-chicory
lips, and try not
to go insane.


Claim our spot in the Quarter where
we huddle and cuddle and spoon.


Lay your head on my
chest, for soft Jazz
repose at noon.


Burn Sandalwood incense to
smoke out my residual pain.


Taste fingers made
sticky sweet,
from powdery Beignets.


Dream big dreams and reveal
my exquisite plans.


Stand guard while you
sleep, count each breath
and hold your hand.




relentless. tireless. dismissed

my non-committal platitudes as




rang my doorbell in the early morn.

staked out my job in the afternoon.




tracked my comings and my goings.

scanned the trash left at my curb.


sought and found


a way past my defenses. learned

sans equivocation what was truly


on my mind


backed me into a corner. end of the

road. trapped, I weighed my

limited options


nowhere to hide. forced to look inside.

i tamped down my fear, turned around


and studied love’s face


after all that happened, was surprised

to discover that i wasn’t more afraid.


a revelation

that i could chart a new course, burnish

in the fire and sprout fresh wings.


verily I say


to all who would listen…that I have

not touched the ground in weeks.







With Drums in the Congo

and solos by Satchmo


Bechet cast a shadow

that saw Basie Swing low


The Quarter sold good shows

to hear Diz’s BIG BLOW


Young Jazzers no cash flow

but Ella could Scat tho’.



The A Train’s not too slow

to see Duke’s Apollo


It’s Blue Trane on Alto

his Favorite Things fo’ sho’


With Free Jazz staccato

Ornette changed the tempo


And Miles tied a neat bow

with Sketches of Spain yo’.



Dem clubs in Chicago

had Mingus and Max Roach


The chords always said so

for T. Monk’s Piano


Now Parker and Byrd know

how Be Bop Hard Bop go


Colossus said no mo’

till Bridge his new intro!





Catch and Release


The Suit was old but his teeth were

clean. Every seat was taken, no

room in-between.


In the crush of the rush, the metal

beast punched deeper into Brooklyn’s

gut; while his terminus awaited,


without judgment…no matter what.


Slipped back into the wild with Metro-

Card and scuffed up shoes, no one


stood outside his cage with bogus

smiles or indifferent news.


So alone he sat and he rode…


Suitcase wedged between his legs

with tattered baggages in tow.


For after seasons of confinement,

the man had nowhere else to go.


















Burn Away


As we bore witness on that eve of Southern

capitulation I held tight to my mamma’s

trembling hand, thick heat rising as fiery tears

watered our family’s land. Three generations

of cultivation, borne of the sweat and blood from

another continent. Until that moment the only

thing we ever had, but it would be years before

we owned any of it.


Nearly one hundred years would pass before

Baldwin’s brilliance gifted the nation with

his Fire. But those of us uprooted by the Great

Disaster desperately wished to see our next time

now – an inferno that blazed with unshackled

shouts of halleluiah as massa’s family slipped away

without a sound. Torn asunder from their power,

blending in with the town.


In the distance, a foreign rider drew closer and

when mamma saw him, she gripped my hand

even tighter. Our sweat soaked the scorched

and baking earth, that rumbled as man and beast

emerged through smoky veil. Like an apparition

backlit by retribution’s angry flames, the soldier

perched astride that horse was transplendent.

Black Boots. Blue Coat. Silver Sword. My Lord.


On this day, salvation wore a weathered beard

and melancholy face that hinted of numerous

stories to be told. As he stared at me and mamma

some kinda’ way, the trajectory of his thoughts was

unreadable. We failed to decipher the message

painted on his eyes, but the words that burned from

his lips were unmistakable. Turn around. Don’t

look back. You’re free to go.


The soul of Moses lives in Upcountry Carolina,

where cotton still blooms in all its complicated glory

and tobacco grows wild enough to pierce the sky. First

offenders have long since returned to dust, but the

sins that stained her sandy soil remain. Amidst muddy

stalks and fallow fields our spirits keep warm by the

remembered heat of prophetic flames. What blessed

calamity will bring an end to our enduring bondage?





Writing under the pseudonym Bernard James, James’ primary goal as a writer is to produce smart, expressive and culturally authentic content that captures the wide spectrum of aspirations and challenges encountered by persons of color. Themes involving expressions of love as well as the intersection of cultural/geographic boundaries are of particular interest – especially those which offer a broader and more diverse fictional interpretation of the Black diaspora. James’ work has appeared in sx salon, a Small Axe literary platform, as well as the Killens Review of Arts & Letters. He is a current Givens Writing Fellow and resides in the Minneapolis area.

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