Poem: for duke ellington


Reuben Jackson is a poet, music scholar, and critic who grew up in DC. He served as archivist and curator of the Smithsonian’s Duke Ellington Collection from 1989 to 2009 and his music reviews have appeared in The Washington Post, Washington City Paper, Jazz Times, Jazziz, and on National Public Radio.

Jackson’s poems have been published in countless journals, anthologies, and newspapers, and he recently participated in a virtual poetry mixtape, co-sponsored by the Folger Shakespeare Library and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, inspired by the museum’s exhibition on how musical artists have channeled rock & roll to respond to racism.

He is currently the Jazz Archives Specialist at the Felix E. Grant Jazz Archives at the University of the District of Columbia. The work below is reprinted from his collection, “Scattered Clouds: New & Selected Poems,” published by Alan Squire Publishing, © 2019. All Rights Reserved.

for duke ellington

Music is your mistress;

demanding constant love

and international settings.

as always, you stroll beside her.

again, grumpy orchestra

springs into elegance at the drop

of your hand.

even so, there are casualties.

the years pass.

you bury rabbit and swee’pea,

run your fingers across the back keys,

dip the color into your hair.

cancerous nodes

rush toward a harrowing cadenza,

pen kisses paper,

a lover

in no particular hurry,

the music reveals itself

a negligee black note at a time.

If you would like to have your poem considered for publication, please send it to klyon@literaryhillbookfest.org. (There is no remuneration.)