Wanda Coleman, a seminal figure of L.A.’s poetry underground, has shared the stage with such cultural icons as Timothy Leary, Alice Coltrane, Allen Ginsberg, Bonnie Raitt, Los Lobos and Richard (Louie Louie) Barry. She is a recent contributor to HARRIET (poetryfoundation.org) and drgodine.blogspot. Her work has appeared in Ploughshares, Zyzzyva, Obsidian and Best American Poetry and has been featured in Writing Los Angeles (Library of America), Poet’s Market (2003), Quercus Review VI, The Los Angeles Review, the Burnside Review and online at MS. Coleman has been an Emmy-winning scriptwriter, and columnist for Los Angeles Times magazine; a nominee for poet laureate of California, and for the USA artists fellowship. She has published 18 books of poetry and fiction which include Bathwater Wine, winner of the 1999 Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize­the first African-American woman to receive the award, and Mercurochrome (poems), bronze-medal finalist, National Book Awards 2001. Her honors include fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the NEA. Her most recent books include Ostinato Vamps (Pitt Poetry Series), The Riot Inside Me: Trials & Tremors (nonfiction, Godine/Black Sparrow), WANDA COLEMAN: Poems Seismic in Scene (de la chienne) - Mise en page et calligraphies/layout and illumination by Jean-Jacques Tachdjian, and Jazz & Twelve O’clock Tales­new stories. The World Falls Away, new poems, will appear in Fall 2011 (Pitt Poetry Series).



                                                —for Austin

give me jazz afternoon
give me slow sun in a glass eye
& a long drag on a j of bo
give me deep breath deep breath deep breath
a sip of California may wine
give me a reflective mocking smile
& breath. a deep breath
another catch of sweet sun
another toke on the j
more wine California may wine
turn up the jazz
another breath. dancing
a breath dancing in the wine
high. tension gone
the sun smiling in the jazz
this afternoon
thinking of you. and laughing
as breath comes sweet as wine
California may wine
and thoughts of loving you
take me so high
even jazz can’t go there

From: African Sleeping Sickness: Stories & Poems, Black Sparrow Press
copyright  © for Wanda Colman, 1990;


destination, the North Star

another way of being in this new century
ever black, have experienced the vortex
with enough agony for ten lifetimes

i’ve put so much blood into this ground it won’t take another drop

fresh out of awe and lost on the way to transcendence

the collision heard was the span of generations
collapsing in on itself

paradise, a millennium and two crap shoots away

nobody for real can beat the odds.
it’s just a matter of time before some are
crucified by their own bodies

ques­tions are posed
dangerous circumstances bemoaned
in diverse polyrhythmics

imagery reflective

representing decades
writing the literary path
crossing the cultural center
finding the heart ballad
in captured nuances,
a forgotten resolve that 
questions the world, 
that compels compassion

father—know that i am you. i touch your gravestone,
clasp your legacy, beg you to not only rise
but smite


my heart comes thru my skin

they’ve snatched my kids

if the police catch me home i’m sunk
(when handcuffed the first and greatest itch
is my nose)

better find some place to spend the night
the car
sleep behind the wheel behind the
apartment building in winter night cold
doors locked
i wake but the scream goes on

can’t tell mama about this

crimester. only crime i’m guilty of trying to
play Alice straight in crookedland

money bitch. can’t get hold of it

if the cops stop me it’s jail without bail
drive. careful. one eye on the road
one eye on the rear view. one eye on tomorrow

help     county hospital psycho ward
the gay psychiatrist tells me “write a book”
my employer saves my neck cuz it’s his wallet
his attorney thinks i’m a cut above scum
the foster mother smiles beneath her black bouffant wig
and tells me my children are well behaved

court      the judge is black‑robed and pleasant
nods. extenuating circumstance it’s so rare to see
a nigger here on somethin’ other than homicide dope
prostitution rape robbery
yes the records are sealed

they almost took me out this time

provide he said. provide
the condition of my release/getting them back
in my custody

i must provide (try to make a dollar outta 15¢)

i will. with difficulty    
but i will         

From Imagoes, Black Sparrow Press,
copyright © for Wanda Coleman, 1983.


 Wanda Coleman

2012 Wanda Coleman

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