New Work: Poetry by Reggie Scott Young

Poems by Reggie Scott Young

Waking Hours Blues

Rousted by late rising
roosters, I get on up
and slide downtown

wanting to lose
myself inside of
a celluloid dream

but at 10:59 the
previews are all reruns,
the feature’s half‑
class, and they charge
a reality-tax on
your munchies.

On the sidewalk the show's much
more thrilling: 

street salesmen compete
for new customers

slum hustlers dangle 18-karat
gold lines

the last endangered species  

"Jesus Saves."

Midday buses run in slow motion when
they come, all filled with gangs
of old ladies wearing last
rite attire, and winos whispering
sweet nothings into brown
paper bags:

A withered old man
hums lyrics of a
timeless truth

about when love’s gone
sunshine goes, too.

Get back home and set
your letter on the table,
decide to read it when
I find time,
stretched on a pillow
bored as death,
dishes are dirty,
mountains of trash,
bills piled up
so high

lying there,
nothing to do
but pray yard birds
don’t start squawking at
your image in
the moon.


Lincoln’s Beard
(or, On Being Invited to Read at the Lincoln Bicentennial Celebration in Baton Rouge, LA, February 8, 2009)

Dear Sir
. . . I have got 4 brother's and part of them will vote for you [but ] if you let your whiskers grow I will try and get the rest of them to vote for you [because] you would look a great deal better for your face is so thin. All the ladies like whiskers and they would tease their husband's to vote for you and then you would be President.

11-year-old Grace Bedell to Abraham Lincoln,
October 15, 1860

I seldom consider the historical significance
of names,
But I grew up in the Land of Lincoln
Used to commute on Lincoln Avenue buses
Hike along the Lincoln Trail
Compete against the varsity at Lincoln-Way High
Visit apes in captivity at Lincoln Park Zoo
Sample the fruit in markets around Lincoln Square
Visit loved ones buried in the colored section of Lincoln Cemetery

I once wrote a history thesis in a pub called Lincoln’s Beard where
I learned men all across the union were
influenced by Old Abe’s growing whiskers, except for
Andrew Johnson.

Those of us from Illinois are often
blinded to the legacy of the man
because we have lived our lives
in the midst of his
lingering shadow.

On a trip to Springfield,
my fifth grade teacher, Miss Stowe, who
pledged to Principal Booker that she
wasn’t prejudice, treated us like
little jigaboos, as if we were all real

Standing in front of his shrine, reading
from a history book with soiled white covers,
she said it was time for us to learn about
the humility of our ancestors who
used to call the stone-carved figure emancipator

. . . and when he went to Virginia
all of your people called him Messiah and
worshipped at his feet—are not all of you grateful
this great, great man
gave his life to
set you free? 

Henrietta Truman jumped back,

My father said nobody
set us free but Jesus
and he sure don’t look like no
Jesus to me—look at that skinny face and
that scraggly beard.                                                           

Freddie Bailey, standing at attention,
gave the portrait of the black
coated man in the chimney
hat a balled-fist salute
and said,

Worship that!

During our return home, she made
them both sit on the floor in
back of the bus, soiling the slacks of
Freddie’s Robert Hall Suit, leaving Henrietta’s
white cotton dress all streaked
and wrinkled—the rest of us singing
Smokey’s “Abraham, Martin, and John”
all the way to the Douglass Park
brownstones where we lived.

I seldom consider the historical significance of place,
but I, too, was born in Kentucky
just outside of Elizabethtown, near where
the myth of the man was

He grew up hating the institution that cheated
white men of jobs because of the enslavement of
my ancestors

My ancestors hated that institution because
it paid them in chains and not
a white man’s wages

His vision and ours have never been the same
I’ve never seen enough of him in
the folds of my wallet.

So here I am, after having lunch just yesterday
in Jefferson Davis Parish
After passing by Robert E. Lee School
on my way here
My mind devoid of ironies because
irony is the product of difference and
I seldom consider the significance of
the changing same

I may be an expatriate from the North,
a reverse migrator mining for pennies far away from
the land that claims his name,
but now in Baton Rouge,
seven score and
four long years later,
history has proven that even in death
his beard keeps on growing and it doesn’t matter
your place, there is no
escaping his shadow.



Little kids are
a lot like Jesus, they
often die of sins
not their own; like
the ones who die in
Bluesville praying:

Father God, please
save us cause
Momma's gone.

It’s not them who fail to
pay the heat, leaving
out the house with the
oven on; and they're
not out there on
their feet, hustling
Disciples’ blessings to
carry on.

Maybe they die to save
the mothers who
walk cracked pavements on
Friday nights,

trying to gather a
little income with
the only training
street messiahs let
them have.

Mercy be to
little children who
often die of sins
not their own,

Sometimes they suffer
sacrifice of life, to be
resurrected in holy

Poems reprinted with permission from Yardbirds Squawking at the Moon: New and Vintage Poems by Reggie Scott Young, Louisiana Literature Press.




Reggie Scott Young is the author of Yardbirds Squawking at the Moon. His works of poetry, fiction and nonfiction have appeared in Fifth Wednesday Journal, Louisiana Literature, Oxford American and other publications. He is also co-editor of Mozart and Leadbelly: Stories and Essays by Ernest J. Gaines and This Louisiana Thing That Drives Me: The Legacy of Ernest J. Gaines. Young is a native of Chicago and a longtime resident of South Louisiana, but he is currently on sabbatical from his professorship in higher education and in Denver, Colorado, where he is in the process of producing new works of poetry and prose. 


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