Major Jackson




Leaving Saturn

Sun Ra & His Year 2000 Myth Science Arkestra
at Grendel’s Lair Cabaret 1986


My eyes dilate old
Copper pennies.
Effortlessly, I play
Manifesto of the One
Stringed Harp. Only
This time I’m washed
Ashore, shipwrecked
In Birmingham.
My black porcelain
Fingers, my sole
Possession. So I
Hammer out
Equations for
A New Thing.
Ovid & Homer
Behind me, I toss
Apple peelings in
The air & half-hear
Brush stokes, the up
Kick of autumn
Leaves, the Arkestra
Laying down for
New dimensions.
I could be at Berkeley
Teaching a course—
Fixin’s: How to Dress
Myth or Generations:
Spaceships in Harlem.
Instead, vibes from Chi-
Town, must be Fletcher’s
Big Band Music—oh,
My brother, the wind—
I know this life is
Only a circus. I’m
Brushed aside: a naïf,
A charlatan, too avant-
Garde. Satellite music for
A futureistic tent, says
One critic. Heartbreak
In outer space, says
Another, —lunar
Dust on the brain.
I head to New York.
New York loves
A spectscle: wet pain
Of cement, sweet
Scent of gulls swirling
Between sckyscrapers
So tall, looks like war.
If what I’m told is true,
Mars is dying, it’s after
The end of the world.
So, here I am,
In Philadelphia,
Death’s headquarters,
Here to save the cosmos
Here to dance in a bed
Of living gravestones.


A Joyful Noise

Sun ra & His Astro-Infinity Arkestra
At Slugs Saloon, 1968


I created a vacuum.
My story is a mystery.
Ain’t no way they
Can fill a vacuum.
Never again will
They hurt me. All
I hear is death. You
Can only play what
You feel. So I butcher
The classics. I’m free.
I’m black. They call
It avant-garde.
I hate myself for being
In the position of playing
In a territory like this:
I didn’t want to be
Here. They say history
Repeats. I’m gonna
Tell them ‘bout their
Potential to bypass
Reality. I dream too
Much. I’m not there
As a woman. That’s
Where I focus thoughts.
I have to hurt friends
For enemies. Because
Of my ideas. If you’re
Going with a master
You have more
Options than
Going alone. I could
Be in Congress
I did the equations.
I’m not where
I’m supposed to be.
I could be in college.
Two psychics told me.
They should have a holiday.
For musicians talk about
How beautiful. No Air.
No Light. No sound.
No life. No Death.
No Energy. No
Nothing. I am full of
Hate tonight. They
Don’t give me
A dime. They gonna hurt
Their very souls.



Crossing Over

Sun Ra & the American Spirit Arkestra
At the Foundation Maeght, 1970


Death, but not
A death. Half-wit
Minutes, homogeneous
Seconds, observed

With open arms,
The way myths end
& encircle you.
On a train to Nots,

I caught a glimpse;
It must have been
This way in Kush
Amid the Pharaohs

Cork-bronzed eyes,
Airtight helmets,
Whose stone-bones
Served as vessels.

Mars? Venus?
Not the point!
What but a family
Of Dynasties endowed

With the divine
Cadence to administer
The infinite swells
& ripples of Funk?

What if the stream attains
The music? Does it mean
The end to responsorial
Calls, the shuck

& jive of briefcase
Men, the termination
Of Image Awards?
Or can one museum

Rhythm? Where is
Parker’s horn?
In any event, we flaunt
The stuff of old

& modern hipness
As if it were a claim
Ticket. The day will
Come: we will have

Wished the world
With us, did the PREP
With as much mock

Capitalistic savvy,
Themselves into stiff
Bouts of kindness.

At moments, when we lose
Parts of ourselves,
Even if we know nothing
Of Legba, Oshun,

Obatala, we do know it
Has always been the case
To share the bopology.
How else to explain

Or the magic pull
So much better at willing

Conformity than the Bill
Of Rights? How else
To explain a people
Willing to groove

The Founding Fathers
Till they sweat abundantly
In nods, shuddering
Out of control.


Between Two Worlds

Sun Ra & His Solar Arkestra
at The Painted Bride Art Center, 1992


Galaxy gowns
& velveteen caps,
A pageant of black
Mummers, fire-eaters,
Flying afrobats.
In The Month of May
Arrival Zone USA.
Bongos, bamboo
Flutes, clavinettes.
We cross the stage
Like a rope of knotted
Elephants, shambling
Single file. Tonight’s
Probe: Was God
An Astronaut? Sun
Harps, space drums,
Vibraphones. I dream
Of Saturn, my home
Moon, Phoebe, my last
Mission under
Different stars
I strike the keyboard,
Prelude to Stargazers,
& recall that night
At Club de Lisa’s
1946, a party of white
Patrons pulling back
The curtain separating
The races. Sound
Scopes, Rocksichords,
Oboes. 5 billion
People on this earth
All out of tune.
Minutes from
The cracked bell
I plot a map
Of stars: Ursa Major
To Vine & 2nd & order
This gathering of
Intelligent earthlings
To embark upon tonight’s
Spaceship—Ihnfinity, Inc.
Cosmic koras, bassoons,
Sharp, brass trumpets.
Beamed on
The cyclorama, Novas
Moons & Jupiter’s
Baleful eye. Cow bells
Wind synths, organ
Music. My Myth
Space Lab, next best
Thing to a crystal ball.


These poems previously published in Leaving Saturn. Copyright 2002 by Major Jackson. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission of the  University of Georgia Press.


major.jpgMajor Jackson is the author of two collections of poetry: Hoops (Norton: 2006) and Leaving Saturn (University of Georgia: 2002), winner of the 2000 Cave Canem Poetry Prize and finalist for a National Book Critics Circle Award. Hoops was a finalist for an NAACP Image Award in the category of Outstanding Literature - Poetry. He has received critical attention in The Boston Globe, Christian Science Monitor, Parnassus, Philadelphia Inquirer, and on National Public Radio's 'All Things Considered.' His poems have appeared in the American Poetry Review, Boulevard, Callaloo, The New Yorker, Post Road, Poetry, Triquarterly, among other literary journals and anthologies. He is a recipient of a Whiting Writers' Award and has been honored by the Pew Fellowship in the Arts and the Witter Bynner Foundation in conjunction with the Library of Congress. Last year, he served as a creative arts fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University and as the Jack Kerouac Writer-in-Residence at University of Massachusetts-Lowell. Major Jackson is an Associate Professor of English at University of Vermont and a core faculty member of the Bennington Writing Seminars.