You Got a Song, Man

Martín Espada
Poet, Essayist, Editor & Translator

You Got a Song, Man

            For Robert Creeley (1926-2005)

You told me the son of Acton’s town nurse

would never cross the border

into Concord, where the Revolution

left great houses standing on Main Street.

Yet we crossed into Concord, walking

through Sleepy Hollow Cemetery

to greet Thoreau, his stone

stamped with the word Henry

jutting like a gray thumbnail

down the path from Emerson

and his boulder of granite.

We remembered Henry’s night in jail,

refusing tax for the Mexican War,

and I could see you hunched with him,

loaning Henry a cigarette, explaining

the perpetual wink of your eye

lost after the windshield

burst in your boyhood face.

When Emerson arrived

to ask what you and Henry

were doing in there, you would say:

You got a song, man, sing it.

You got a bell, man, ring it.


You hurried off to Henry in his cell

before the trees could bring their flowers

back to Sleepy Hollow.

You sent your last letter months ago

about the poems you could not write,

no words to sing when the president swears

that God breathes the psalms of armies in his ear,

and flags twirl by the millions

to fascinate us like dogs at the dinner table.

You apologized for what you could not say,

as if the words were missing teeth

you searched for with your tongue,

and then a poem flashed across the page,

breaking news of music interrupting news of war:

You got a song, man, sing it.

You got a bell, man, ring it.


Today you died two thousand miles from Sleepy Hollow,

somewhere near the border with Mexico, the territory

Thoreau wandered only in jailhouse sleep.


Your lungs folded their wings in a land of drought

and barbed wire,  boxcars swaying intoxicated at 4 AM

and unexplained lights hovering in the desert.

You said: There’s a lot of places out there, friend,

so you would go, smuggling a suitcase of words

across every border carved by the heel

of mapmakers or conquerors, because

you had an all-night conversation with the world,

hearing the beat of unsung poems in every voice,

visiting the haunted rooms in every face.

Drive, you said, because poets must

bring the news to the next town:

You got a song, man, sing it.

You got a bell, man, ring it.

from The Republic of Poetry


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