may 2009

Queen of the Blues—for Koko Taylor

By George Kalamaras

music like a god

the bump and grunt

why break the blues across

the blue horizon of the sky?

why break the crush of black bread?

bee intestines strung from a Memphis farm to Chicago

voice fuller than breasts

breasts fuller than two black-hole moons

a man is writing his life

trying desperately not to objectify his inside black

the way a teacher bites an apple and makes of it a room

the way I dreamed Saturn-burn turn in my wrist with each note you sang

let me call you, Cora, by your Christian name

let me crawl your last name, Walton, vast across my chest

you married “Pops” Taylor who drove a truck

and brought you in ’54 all the way to Chicago

hear, now, the scrape of the curved horn

of the giant sable antelope of Angola

lusted after for a hundred years

this elusive beast among the chokeberry and the scutch

hear the jungle-scut of ivory and enormous roaring beasts

and how all the lame and dead

lepers I met in India, lunatics in Delhi, all who bled

less fed than your voice filling that part of my now-open heart

Koko, live at Sam’s, Fort Collins, 1982—me, not wanting to dance

but drink, instead, your sinew strut, your every spacious swerve

how I fell in love with the coffee-stain of your voice

the Rocky Mountains blurred with the brazen belt of all the blue you said

This poem originally appeared in Origin magazine, Sixth Series, Issue 4, 2007 and is reprinted here with the permission of The Chicago Blues Guide (,where it appeared last month.

George Kalamaras was born on the South Side of Chicago and grew up listening to the blues-beginning with Ray Charles, all of whose albums his mother had. He is Professor of English at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, where he has taught since 1990.  He is the author of nine books of poetry, including Gold Carp Jack Fruit Mirrors (The Bitter Oleander Press, 2008) and The Theory and Function of Mangoes (Four Way Books, 2000), which won the Four Way Books Intro Series.  C & R Press will publish The Recumbent Galaxy, a book of poems he co-authored with Alvaro Cardona-Hine, as first prize in C & R Press's Open Competition.

Hundreds of his poems have appeared in journals and anthologies in the United States, Canada, Greece, India, Japan, Mexico, Thailand, the United Kingdom, and elsewhere, including The Best American Poetry 2008 and 1997, American Letters & Commentary, New American Writing, and elsewhere.  He is the recipient of Creative Writing Fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts (1993) and the Indiana Arts Commission (2001), and first prize in the 1998 Abiko Quarterly International Poetry Prize (Japan).

You can read more about George Kalamaras, listen to him read his poetry, and find links to interviews at:

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