SongAgain Peter J. Harris

I’m 12 and sitting on the sofa next to my brother Ron, who’s 19 and on the telephone. My second oldest brother is so suave that I cannot hear a word he’s saying. I’m so in awe that for years I’m imprinted by his secret agent temperament, taste and style. 

Today I’m thinking about how he demonstrated his love for favorite music, mostly Motown songs. Even now, me in my 60s, him in his 70s, we often swap links for those classics. If he loved a song, he’d play that joint over and over, a habit I picked up and continue, as my kids could tell you! 

My oldest brother Glenn, on the other hand, talked so much that he wound up retiring from a sportscasting career on TV and being inducted into the SILVER CIRCLE of The National Capital Chesapeake Bay Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, which hands out EMMY Awards. 

And if Glenn loved a song, mostly Woodstock-flavored pop music, he was prone to coming home after 2am, entering the room we shared, and blasting one his favorites — say Buddy Miles’ LA Resurrection — on his small but powerful speakers. 

Pops rocked Mahalia Jackson to make it over a bender and Bobby Blue Bland when that Smirnoff had him tipsy but not tripping. 

Moms turned up the volume on Leontyne Price, when I naively thought opera mostly synched with my concept of the corniest whiteness.

Anna was in the Glee Club for a minute and wound up marrying the lead singer of DC’s own, AM:FM.

Carla was an early devotee of Prince, before I ever heard of him, and before I got turned out by how the song Purple Rain was so deftly used to climax the film of the same name.

And yall KNOW I once daydreamed that I was singing harmonies in the recording studio with Earth, Wind & Fire, when I couldn’t hold a note in a Tupperware container!

Music, eclectic music, ran deep in our family’s blood. 

Singing my song, in my own distinctive voice, is my governing artistic motif.

SongAgain … first whispered to me when I got a call from genius musician and cultural worker Ed Barguiarena, who commissioned me to write a poem as part of The Music Center of LA County‘s initiative For The Love of LA.

Now it’s the title of my fourth book of poetry

Truth be told, as much as I swoon to music, SongAgain might as well be a force that constantly hums around me — like a field of Love & Affection ….

As I cultivate the music of the rest of my life, I want SongAgain to be fragrance, code, criteria….


“do the doables…” – Wangari Maathai, Kenyan ecologist, human rights advocate,
2004 Nobel Peace Prize winner

behavior craving

scrapple of recombination
to the e c h o of Big Bang
a good taste
e x p a n d i n g mouths of fellow citizens
for billions of years

subatomic hallelujah extrapolated from Aunt Anna’s merciless apple cobbler
dinner invitation contains countdown to rural Virginia queries
from master teacher prodding city-boy apprentice

whose eyes appraise mastery? bear invisible gift of correlating guidance
whose words harbor tenderness? blast along oscillating Ring Shout

do the doables say my border-melting tias
baby-sit the ephemeral know the truth of a tree
coax vision into a voice traffic in music feelings gave you back in the day
cornrow a kora’s poignancy into aurora of an evening horizon
disarm overseers denouncing our song as a crime
shoo shadows from the threshold of wisdom
play bid whist with the ghost of my mother
Hula-hoop across Golden Gate Bridge chant names of rivet slingers who fell into churning ocean during construction
tap meanings between facts to embroider our tools
guarantee just enough structure to shoulder human virtuosity

come on in less shock and way more awe
way more mending & coalescing into stark raving sane
hinged & swinging without squeak of military cadence
& self serving rationale of billionaire welfare queens
foisting profit into mythology
demanding allegiances from their victims, their targets, their juries

Home Training a la mode
IRS refunds big enough to re-pay my 84-year-old ex-babysitter
for anchoring my parents’ hard-working lives
interview Miss Joyce about reallocating the federal budget
her lullaby her ass whippings her common wisdom
her compassionate conservatism raw material for the sweetest topping
converting Guantanamo into a national park
where like @ Manzanar
exhibition placards run down genealogy
of the national beat-down & its ugly reverb
translated as needed to raise eyebrows & knit hands
the memory of done
a kiss whispering between generations

BONUS EXCERPT from my book, Black Man of Happiness: In Pursuit of My ‘Unalienable Right,’ WINNER, 2015 AMERICAN BOOK AWARD: “… Saturated by the vitality of great singers, vibrating within as I sang along, my whole body humming like a magic wand, my aura flaring like an invisible tuning fork, I burned off the virus causing my influenza and mood indigo. Hallucination gave way to witness: I was too complex a brother, had always been too complex a number three son, too complex a middle child of two older brothers and two younger sisters, to settle for being a photocopy of my older brothers and my alcoholic father. Peabo and them brought me to the edge, took me to the bridge. Through their sound, I perceived ecstasy, joy, and renewal. I felt an R&B Radiance, a Sam & Dave Divinity, that inflamed and amazed me. I was coaxed back into life by a soundtrack of American Black male singers. I felt a stirring inside. My brothers were singing. I sang to myself, baby boy it’s time to own and cultivate your unique way of being a man. Change or die! The stakes were that high. I needed the men sounding me. Their music helped me change for the better. It began to soothe what ached within me.…”

1 thought on “SongAgain”

  1. “ play bid whist with the ghost of my mother
    Hula-hoop across Golden Gate Bridge chant names of rivet slingers who fell into churning ocean during construction
    tap meanings between facts to embroider our tools
    guarantee just enough structure to shoulder human virtuosity”

    W H E W 🙌🏾


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