National Poetry Month: Invitation

Al Young

In light of poet Al Young’s recent passing, we’re sharing his poem “Invitation” from our sixth issue, published in the Summer of 1986.

In memory of Papa Jo Jones & Philly Joe Jones

There’ll be all the requisites

& O how exquisite

the presence of night blooming

jazzmen & women, flowering

in aurora borealis like all the rounded

midnights & Moscow nights and New Delhi

dawns you ever wanted to drop in on

or sit in with or pencil

into your calendar of unscheduled delights.

There’ll be love in all its liquid

power, rhythmic & brassy; mellifluous

forms, flashing flesh & the slippery

glittering skin of your teeth;

enchantment, male & female;

the orchid chords of hothouse scat

as pop song, as darkness sweetened

with light; the ascension of steps

that lead to some sumptuous Park

Avenue apartment where a bemoanable lady

lives, sophisticated to a fault, in need

of this bittersweet cultural chocolate,

this quiescent sensation of an invitation.

It’ll be big, this gig called life;

the biggest. Johann Sebastian Bach

knew what it was like to bop

through a shower in the late afternoon,

then hang out in your hotel / motel / do-tell

room, wonde-ring what time it really is

back in Iowa City or New Orleans or

the New York of all New Yorks or Rome,

the home you just left the way

autumn leaves—suddenly. Or now it’s Paris

where it’s going to be wine & cold sandwiches

while you’re longing to dine on collard greens

& blackeyed peas with ribs & sauce

hot enough to burn away the sauerkraut &

pig’s knuckle of international loneliness.

You’ll make your calls & sail off

into an aria or a deep toccata; in short

you’ll honor the invitation your heart’s

been cabling you direct from the ace,

fulfilling all those requisite licks

so exquisite to the crowd whose roar

will silence all the circus lines

the blue-hearted you never got to deliver.

And it’ll be the livers of life within who’ll know

how répondez s’il vous plaît should play.

Just plan to sit and make yourselves at home.

Al Young, a nationally renowned novelist, essayist, screenwriter, professor and poet laureate, died April 17. He was 81. More on his life at Berkleyside.

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