Musical Chair by Rhonda J. Nelson


Van K. Brock Florida Poetry Series (2004)

The poetry of Rhonda J. Nelson is hard, chiseled and elliptic. Her lines are alive in sounds, relishing the texture and cadence of the words. Her images implant themselves in your mind and will not let go.

Her poems move in and around her subjects, hint at various narratives and motives, further mysteries. They circle and glide through disillusionment and danger, and at the same time enact the struggle and passion of the distressed to survive.

In choosing this poet for the Writer's Exchange program, I felt I'd found a poet not simply with exceptional technical skills, but one who's sensibility and voice implied a deeper vision and attachment to the world, a strength and purpose that would not be denied. --David Mura, poet, author of After We Lost Our Way, The Colors of Desire, and judge for Poets & Writers, Inc. Writer's Exchange 2000



To hear my father tell it, jazz died
in 1970, Joe Williams relegated
to third chair behind the Brazilians.
The new boys play too many notes.
Logic is an arsonist, strikes
its match when night is darkest
filling my father's head
with sixteenths and thirty-seconds
while he prays for whole notes.
When the band begins, my father cups
his hands over his deaf ears.
In 1972, logic drug his stand up bass
down the alley to the pawn shop
threw the claim check away.

At three a.m. I sit on the desk
in front of an open window. Cold air
slaps my face; I cry to Coltrane, cry
to Miles, cry for the bassist
who stole the music and left a vase of tulips
in its place. To say he never gave me
flowers is redundant: he never gave me anything.
He took my home, my map, my eyes, left me
blind in heavy weather next to the empty
saxophone case. So much for logic.

Logic depends on strangers
to throw coins in its cup for the next meal
not unlike my father's cupped hands.
Chaos splits a reed between its teeth
dedicates the next song to me.


Empty Town

This is where she lives now.
On the back lot of a school girl crush
the baton twirler in boots wasted
down to her petty pants.
No more rides with chrome bumpers
just a rush to the end of her novella
splintered life borrowed like a library book
down the scary alley where women lie scattered
like broken birds. The one in the corner
with the wilted corsage, the one with punch spilled
down her dress, hallucinating in and out
of the dresser drawer, the one with the gun
in her mouth, wondering if the bullet
will mar her headboard. This is where she lives
small town with one street light flashing no survivors
mothers counting sins like sheep
and the billboard next to the drive-in
says, School's Out. Go Slow.

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