blackbirdonline journalSpring 2011  Vol. 10  No. 1

Reading Loop Introduction and Table of Contents

spacer Susan Settlemyre Williams
   Man of Fire: The Poetry of Jake Adam York

Leia Darwish
   No Comparable Warmth

Jake Adam York
   In Previous Issues

spacer A link to Blackbird’s “Jake Adam York Remembered” appears at the bottom of every Jake Adam York-related page in this issue. You may also return to this menu by visiting Features. 

With sadness, we at Blackbird note the death of Jake Adam York. We were fortunate to be able to publish York’s work, to hear him read, and to count him as a friend. In this feature, Susan Settlemyre Williams praises his remarkable poetry in her essay, “Man of Fire: The Poetry of Jake Adam York,” and Leia Darwish remembers a teacher and mentor in “No Comparable Warmth.”

We also link to work that appears in previous issues, including poems, reviews of his work, and an audio of an interview in which Blackbird senior editor Gregory Donovan speaks to York about elegy, race, and documentary poetics in York’s first collection Murder Ballads.

York’s poem “Vigil” appeared in Blackbird v3n2 and represents well his ongoing project to memorialize and provide a voice for the martyrs of the civil rights movement.


The bike, the handlebars, the fork,
spoked wheels still spinning off sun,

still letting go his weight as he
lay in the grass along Docena Road

just hours after the bomb went off
under the church steps downtown,

four girls dead, though they hadn't heard,
Virgil with a bullet in his heart, Virgil Ware

who wanted a bike for a paper-route
who perched on his brother's handlebars

and caught the white boys' bullet
but never got a bike or a headstone

or a 14th birthday, Virgil and his brother
and the bike in the grass off Docena Road.

The handlebars, fork, and iron diamond
frame that held them both, warming

in the Alabama sun. Stars of paint and chrome
that rained all over north Birmingham,

up and down the Docena-Sandusky road,
nesting like crickets in the weeds.

And the seat, wearing at the edges,
the cushion opening like a cattail

to the wind. But the frame, still holding
handed down and down and down

till bright as a canna. Then laid
with its brothers in a tangle in the sun.

Then gathering heat and darkening.
Then weeds insinuating the fork,

the sprocket, the pedal, each iron artery,
working back toward the light.

Let their flowers open from the mouths
of the handlebars and the seat-post.

Let them be gathered from the frame
and the frame raised up. Let it be

hot to the touch. Let its rust burn
into the finest creases of the hand

and the warp of the shirtsleeve and the pants
and worked into the temples' sweat.

Then let it descend into the furnace like a hand
that opens all its rivers, each tribute,

each channel, each buried town.
Let it gather this heat, this fire, hold it all.

Let the crucible door open like a mouth
and speak its bloom of light, molten and new.

Let me stand in its halo. Let me stand
as it pours out its stream of suns.

Let me gather and hold it like a brother.
And let it burn. 

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