James J. Siegel
James J. Siegel is a San Francisco-based poet and literary arts organizer. He is the host and curator of the popular monthly Literary Speakeasy show at Martuni’s piano bar. Originally from Toledo, Ohio, his first poetry collection, How Ghosts Travel, was inspired and fueled by his coming of age in the Midwest and was a finalist for an Ohioana Book Award. He was a scholarship recipient to the Antioch Writers’ Workshop in Yellow Springs, Ohio, and his poems have been featured in a number of journals including The Cortland Review, Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review, Assaracus, The Fourth River, HIV Here & Now, The Good Men Project, and more. He was also featured in the anthology Divining Divas: 100 Gay Men On Their Muses.
THE SAN FRANCISCO POLICE RADIO SINGS DANNY BOY
This is all you will need to understand
the death of another unarmed man by
the San Francisco Police Department –
Danny Boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling
crackling over the police radio
when Dan White murdered Milk and Moscone.
Four shots and the mayor is dead, five more
and the mayor of Castro Street is gone.
That bright November day turned to darkness –
Summer’s gone and all the roses falling
and down at the hall of justice a cheer,
a tip of the hat and hip hip hooray
for the golden boy of the police force,
good old boy of the old San Francisco
when men were men and the city was theirs.
Screams echoed off the walls of city hall
while squad cars sang a different melody –
and I am dead, as dead I may well be –
O Danny Boy, you finally did it,
pulled the trigger we always wanted to pull.
And so it goes – all this blood on the badge
soaked deep into the blue, a lineage
of the protectors protecting their own.
All this is nothing new to a city
where Danny crawled through an open window –
a holstered .38 Smith & Wesson –
and did what the cops were only thinking,
did what the cops today are still thinking.
That revolver is always reloaded
and those cherry red lights are still chasing
life after life into another grave.
Listen to those sirens harmonizing,
lean in close and listen to the chorus
of bullets as they whisper to the air
and you may hear a soft ballad beneath
that sings: O Danny Boy, I love you so.
“The spacecraft will be encountered and the record played only if there are advanced spacefaring civilizations in interstellar space.”
Dark was the Night, Cold was the Ground –
what will intelligent life say when
the stylus drops on the gold record
and that bottleneck guitar echoes through
the halls of space, moans like salvation,
a southern church in the dark of December,
Willie Johnson’s penknife gliding down the frets,
fingers plucking out a crucifixion hymn?
Does any such sound exist beyond
the solar winds, past the heliopause?
Can life outside this galaxy comprehend
a black man’s hands divining a passion play?
Perhaps there is a civilization
that can translate the record’s 55 languages,
the Aramaic for “peace,” the Latin words
“Greetings to you, whoever you are.”
A billion miles from this world
another world may recognize
the rhythm of rain and thunder,
the timbre of wind and wild dogs,
the percussion of the human heart.
But does it recognize the frequency
of a man’s soul vibrating off strings,
the Christ in a chord change?
This Earth has always been
an earth of suffering, Garden of Gethsemane
where disciples busk on street corners,
preaching the gospel of gospel blues.
On this earth a man’s song is more valuable
than the man. A sharecropper’s son
reshaping his suffering into musical notes,
music into prayer. Transubstantiation
traveling from instrument to airwaves
to the lost and forsaken adjusting their radio dials,
a promise of deliverance reaching the vast spaces
And still this world allowed him to die
alone in a home with no roof –
only the dying light of the stars above –
buried in a forgotten Texas cemetery.
Now those same stars draw him in
to the edges of an unexplored universe.
Will it understand what to do
with this human harmony turned holy?
Perhaps it has always been waiting
for that open D tuning, the key change
that unlocks the heavy doors of creation,
shines a light upon the face of the deep.
Listen to the suffering of one lonely world
released as a deep-throated melody
that propels the dust of the cosmos to collide,
perfects a new planet spinning in the heavens.
Copyright © 2022 by James J. Siegell. These poems originally appeared in MiGoZine Summer 2021. Used with permission of the author.