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AP Literature: Poetry: Harper, Rachel M

Poet

Bio

Rachel M. Harper is a novelist and screenwriter. Her first novel, Brass Ankle Blues, was a Borders Original Voices Award finalist and selected as a Target Breakout Book. Her newest novel, This Side of Providence, will be published in April 2016; it was recently adapted into an original television pilot, City of Providence.

Her short fiction and poetry have appeared in numerous anthologies including Black Cool: One Thousand Streams of Blackness, Literary Pasadena, and Mending the World: Stories of Family by Contemporary Black Writers, as well as the journals Carolina Quarterly, Chicago Review, African American Review, and Prairie Schooner. Her One-Act play, “Bluffing on a Queen’s Playground,” was part of the New Black Playwrights Festival at Actor’s Express in Atlanta, and she recently collaborated on the performance piece, “The Book of Daniel,” by award-winning interdisciplinary theatre artist Daniel Alexander Jones.

Harper has received multiple fellowships from Yaddo and the MacDowell Colony, and was profiled by The Root as part of their 2011 city series on Los Angeles’ black literary giants. A graduate of Brown University and the University of Southern California, Harper is on the faculty at Spalding University’s low-residency MFA in Writing Program. She lives in Los Angeles, where she is currently at work on a new novel and several TV/film projects.

Work

The Myth of Music
for my father

By Rachel M. Harper
 

If music can be passed on

like brown eyes or a strong

left hook, this melody

is my inheritance, lineage traced

through a title track,

displayed on an album cover

that you pin to the wall

as art, oral history taught

on a record player, the lessons

sealed into the grooves like fact.

This is the only myth I know.

I sit on the hardwood

floors of a damp November,

my brother dealing cards

from an incomplete deck,

and I don’t realize that this

moment is the definition

of family, collective memory

cut in rough-textured tones,

the voice of a horn so familiar

I don’t know I’m listening,

Don’t know I’m singing,

a child’s improvisation

of Giant Steps or Impressions:1

songs without lyrics

can still be sung.
 

In six months, when my mother

is 2,000 miles away, deciding

if she wants to come home,

I will have forgotten

this moment, the security

of her footsteps, the warmth

of a radiator on my back and you

present in the sound of typing

your own accompaniment,

multiphonics disguised as chords

in a distant room, speakers set

on high to fill the whole house

with your spirit, your call

as a declaration of love.
 

But the music will remain.

The timeless notes of jazz

too personal to play out loud,

stay locked in the rhythm

of my childhood, memories fading

like the words of a lullaby,

come to life in a saxophone’s blow.

They lie when they say

music is universal—this is my song,

the notes like fingerprints

as delicate as breath.

I will not share this air

with anyone

but you.
 

1Giant Steps is a jazz album (1960) by John Coltrane. Impressions (1963)

is another album by Coltrane.

Books