David Blair, (who went by “Blair” most often, and onstage–and D. Blair in print) knew how to light up the stage and the page. Blair’s death in 2011 ripped a hole in the heart of Detroit, and in so many different worlds. He crossed my mind today, as he often does. And so I picked up his book today and gave it a kiss, and here, let it kiss you back. What a soul this true troubadour Blair had. How lucky I was to know him. Blair’s performances were so angelic; he’d be drenched in sweat–from strumming his guitar, from singing, from reciting his amazing poems. I never wanted to wake up from those dreams. He was one of the most talented, hardest working poets I know, and one of a handful of artists I’ve ever known who bent the steel of the world to conform to his life in art.
He was so good, Blair, at so many things, one of them being the tribute poem–here paying homage to the beauty, power, and enduring force of Motown. In this poem I love how his metaphors of music and race crackle under the needle. The literal ceiling here you can see in the Motown Museum, how the engineers cut a hole in it to create natural reverb. But the figurative ceiling in this poem, like the “border” at the end of the record, is a theme I see in so much of Blair’s work–that sings of limitlessness, of music that goes beyond the walls, of humanity that transcends racism, sexism, homophobia.
Get to know Blair’s work if you don’t know it; you can find recordings of his performances all over YouTube. And look for his book from which this poem is taken, “Moonwalking,” which celebrates and examines the life of Michael Jackson, and many other things. There are copies floating around online, though the book is out of print. You’d have to shoot me to get my copy.
A record gets placed on a player.
A perimeter of darkness
like cruising Outer Drive
at dusk. A field of deep blue.
A black revolution. On top,
a map lives, red veins and blue.
A needle’s placed
in the groove. It follows
a highway of vinyl.
The music of hoods, surrounded
in temptation and funk, the rough and
tumble of a boulevard.
Smoky from chain smoke.
Here, we take chains and use them for percussion.
Here, we stick holes in the ceiling for reverb.
We cut holes in the ceiling ’cause sky ain’t no limit.
Cut holes in the ceiling so the music can echo
back off the block. A whole nation cuttin’
the carpet. Floored by the music
of Starrs and of Wonders.
And they just keep coming
reminding that when your arm hits that border,
the music ain’t over.