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Songs From the Poetry Box

by Steve Swell

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POETS OF THE NOW Hoarding shards of perceptionless vibrations, Smiling down tirelessly suffocating fears, Crossing rivers on the backs of formless jealousies, Climbing over the last dead, rotting insecurity. There and then, the Now appears Opening arms so as not to take them up, Lifting the front end of strollers up subway stairs, Listening to the silence of the void, before the first note touches the air, Gazing on the endless power and possibilities of the present. Witness this harvest of the Now from which such sweet fruit is bared Glint of night retreating from newly sown seeds of breath, From behind glass walls, fragile self-esteem steps aside As soul reaches out, knocking it all away -- Free to connect to the world again, Sending isolation to its lonely grave. Yet staying vigilant, listening for the next crowding in of thoughts, Unwittingly ready to erect new enclosures. What’s it like to live in the past or future of your mind, I’ve mostly forgot, Confusing the Now with the fantasy of some other place and time, Some other experience, never resembling mine. Maybe seeing where I am right now is not where I’d hoped to be, But being able to BE that NOW in THIS time and space and KNOW The transitoriness of a situation and NOT let it determine who I am, But to know the wholeness of it all And not be swept away, lost, somehow, in the cluttered musings of some illusion. This is the lucidity of the immediate, The arrival of living. No more prisons of the mind, body or spirit, No more how-it-is-your-supposed-to-be police, Rambling, ramble Slowing, slow Center, centering Now, now The five skandas, both simultaneously present and destroyed, This is the challenge. The rich, the poor, The shuckster, the hustler, The businessman, the homeless, Those most proud of being gas guzzlers. All in need of this Now, Not simply a bunch of words, But something once found, The beauty of which paves a lush path to the infinite, Transforming the victims of the swamp into the Poets of the Now. Steve Swell July, 2002
competitive nature and Buddha nature are fine lines only of value when noticed while crossing them and understanding why 7/1/13
Estuaries Freshwater mingling with brine Swirling with sounds and imagination Incandescent transmissions released from time Freely connecting with the open sea Pulsing declarations brook the flood Following the pull of infinity Tectonically produced engulfments of air and spirit and sweat Preventing erosion while nurturing the future Where the great blue heron comes to nest Pouring out their mellifluous being Conjuring one surprise after another Prompting fresh rivulets of seeing The rich mud bottom grows hallucinatory dreams and more The music breaking against ever distant shores Audible cooperation assuring hope its destiny Flickering capriccios caress this fantasy Bubbling vibrations spinning round Swimming visions quicken the sonorous heart The soul churning quicker, at last unbound 12/29/12
Caution, voyager Bridge the Bristol River Blue With Bebop, and Jersey City and too much time on your hands to know this is not right and that might be worse but never knowing the lesser of two evils equals The hot, Biblical Hell of alternating spaces of someone else's making Forgetting the business of here. Steve Swell, November, 2003
Circular paths, the call of the unseen revealing its mysteries in the ancient rituals of curiosity and discovery to see what’s in the cracks, to keep digging until a dream emerges and breathes on its own Hiking through the Amazon, the uninhibited inquisitiveness pushing the brush aside as playful apparitions come to tease me Rattlesnakes make their way through my tympanic canal suggesting an underground route Where dancing is preferred over words Industrial size fans blow through enormous empty spaces, decorating the walls with chameleons and brutal bug eye views that are distorted into the freshest of air that is suitable for drinking, acknowledging all aspects of living There’s an ancient-future that reveals itself constantly A modernity that grows and blooms from the rich soil of the recent, flowering into the next, to assure the winning of a hard scrabble evolution into humanness............ June 5, 2020
Musical Chess Don’t wait for their go ahead Because more than likely you’ll never get it They are working under certain presumptions Of who to move ahead and who should Never be allowed at the table It’s got nothing to do with your work It’s got nothing to do with who you are It’s just what they are already prone To look for, so they can have a sense That they are doing something great that everybody wants Giving them the power to make you think this is what you want Or maybe they wish to be compensated for moving you ahead Either way they will always find a way to keep you back Or move you ahead Based entirely on their whim They’ll say it’s the work But that’s just another way to say You’re not good enough or don’t fit their profile Or you didn’t buy that ad or paid for that exorbitant PR person So, don’t wait for them to move you ahead, they’re not interested In you Or your work You are a conduit Make yourself available at all times For all things to flow to you from The reaches beyond ourselves That we can’t see but know are there Without them clogging up the works The wounded pigeon limps ever so skillfully forward January 26, 2019
iCloud 01:47
I Cloud soft bright furry miraculous shapes whispering tongue memory pictures of assorted rosewood interiors shimmering tassels of breezes blown up against malleable fantasies vibrating with things and time the morning pleases with glistening vibrations, breath blows its warm tones over quiet yet steady campfires the ballet of sound rhythms of happiness the sky just out of reach, my arms, legs, eyes pulling and stretching to become part of it falling upwards a disintegration into dreamy experiences a bubbling lightness of consciousness floating in loose formations transforming and breaking with this frame of vision into a realization of time and space belonging to everything gazing into a world through mirrors reflecting other places, falling into it, the racing, moving particles melting into music the warmth of smiles and deeply loved glimmering eyes it's folds of comfort enveloped in a longing Steve Swell 9/26/12
The View from 1962 We were all just boys then 7 to 10 careless and carefree waiting for that dip in the pool on a hot Newark summer day Our crew bussed in from Union (there was no pool at our Boys Club) Orderly lines and good behavior were very much a part of our getting anywhere as a group so we stood on line at the door in single file, waiting to enter Another group of boys, same age as us having just finished their swim, refreshed and cool waited for their bus in single file facing the opposite direction Their group was different from ours Our crew was mostly white Theirs was all black Both lines were quiet at first, waiting for the next set of instructions some boys could be heard murmuring amongst each other, anxious to get moving The day was clear and bright and the air was still, even with our fidgeting Suddenly there was a feeling of concentrated anxiety, a gathering force drawing us away from our individual reveries And then from somewhere behind me, I heard it, all of us heard it, not very loud or angry, but rather matter of fact, as if said before, casually or heard from a trusted adult: "Hey Hershey Bar!" there was no escaping the understanding or the tone of this clearest of pronouncements or where it came from or for whom it was intended All heads and eyes turned and looked up or around Then again, more directed sharper than the previous volley I looked to my left where the kid to whom the reproach fell upon as he stood facing in the direction of his tormentor the words having reached the young boy's ears, firing neurons as the offense was directly registered generating its intended wounding effect Our lines were so close to each other we could touch, or hug or kill The taunting continued with other boys behind me chiming in That kid looked straight up in the sky turning his face directly into the sun, eyes wide open, as if to feel the full warmth of its rays enveloping him protecting him from the inglorious onslaught I was close enough to see his tears forming, seeing his pain and shame as he looked skyward as if to escape somehow managing to stem the flow of his gathering tears looking quickly down again to avoid eye contact with this terror That kid never cried, or said a word. The other boys in his line stood motionless and never said anything either Then as quickly as it started it was over and we were moving again, in opposite directions, the entire episode forgotten, by us But I will never forget that kid or his reaction and frustration not being able to speak back to the taunts as it was still too soon in our story as a country to push back on such slanders I know now the only power he held was to deny his provocateurs any satisfaction in their crude mockeries And in that moment a small but honorable victory was undeniably his 2014
Peace Piece for Patricia Nicholson Parker Countless rockets soaring at once fueled by a pure heart and unwavering determination In all directions Lighting darkened corners of many minds, unstoppable taking every cosmic attack in stride Unlocking doors and opportunities for others selflessly, persistently All in the name of hope and peace and remembrance of where this music started, its legacy demanding its respect and recognition A remarkable energy flowing with ideas shot from the hip, head and heart burnishing irons in her fire until they become reality Support—acknowledgement—standards All in the assurance that love will win the day Steve Swell 11/1/2019
Schizoid normals and other unrelated scenarios fire off sheets of Patchens and Kerouacs Falling from inside with sonic blueprints grabbing streaming, rushing bursting the brain traveling at Mach 1,000 like pinballs bouncing bumping against rubber cushions smoothing the ride as ideas ideate creations resulting on the downstream shores of calm warm lakes 4/19/2019
The human condition! The human condition! Oh what a position….. ……to be in Sound the bells! Ring the alarms! Raise the ramparts! Call out the national guard! The slalom of life goes uphill With scrambled brains served on Saturday Artificially sweetened drinks on Sunday Packing yourself back into storage on Monday The human condition! Oh what a position….. Racing around to calm down Skyrocketing to happiness land in duct taped vehicles that have no center of gravity shaking out of control veering into unconscious consciousness in a narcotic stupor that passes for living Oh what a condition This continuous perdition This unrelenting schism This American edition Stagnant wages, rising debt Propaganda that wildly demands your love of car, country, cash, credit, cookies, corn, cops, clover, criminals, clowns, creeps, comedy, cow pies and a clearly capitalist consumer collectivist consciousness that takes you Deeper into the unsympathetic Ass kicking brass knuckled grip of more Oh what a condition Our human condition The slime and stench of greed and the Tangled reasoning that makes it good and holy Standing on truths that only Hollywood could convince you exists Without any sense of a shared experience or continuity of spirit Blunted hearts soaring with a million ways to take lunch Or to get rich or famous or ahead or elected or laid or dead The human condition Oh what a position This latest edition Evolving at the rate of snails While the tentacles of money and power and thoughtlessness Squeeze our souls to the tune of a higher tax rate As we squeal for more, screw our neighbor and end up with less than we deserve The bellowing, bewildered anxiety of it all Just when the handle of certainty manages to wrap it’s warped little fingers around your mind The deeper self throws a knuckle ball your way to remind you to wake up but our blunted instincts swing wildly and miss Twisted dead dry hollowed out shells Supported and backed up by other twisted shells Perceiving faint shadows of the real fighting to remember to break out Ineptly attempted and too tired to try again Yet its there, the poet, the painter the possible Popping up its head looking out over the woeful landscape Crying amongst the underbrush of confusion and directionless Clearing a path to travel even if for a bit Singing bravely into the face of torpor and lethargy Switching on the lights in longing hearts and eyes Hearing the music, reading the books, igniting the soul So that we may know that there are options and breath, and space, and time and each other July 22, 2012


Click on individual tracks or "lyrics" to see the text of each poem


released August 30, 2023

Steve Swell, poetry, trombone, pocket trumpet (Track 5)
Ellen Christi, sound design, voice
Sam Newsome, soprano saxophone (Tracks 2, 4, 5)
William Parker, bass (Track 8)
Masahiko Kono, trombone, electronics (Track 8)


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Steve Swell New York, New York

Born in Newark, NJ, Trombonist/Composer Steve Swell has been an active member of the NYC music community since 1975. He has toured and recorded with diverse jazz personalities from Lionel Hampton and Buddy Rich to "outsiders" Anthony Braxton and Cecil Taylor. Steve has received numerous awards and grants. ... more

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