Apr 05 2012

One of Only Two — Another Poem for Rory Gallagher

Published by under poems

George Kalamaras and Bootsie

George Kalamaras was born on the South Side of Chicago and grew up listening to the blues — beginning with Ray Charles, all of whose albums his mother had. He is Professor of English at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, where he has taught since 1990. He has published hundreds of poems in literary journals and twelve books of poetry, including Your Own Ox-Head Mask as Proof (Ugly Duckling Presse, 2010), Gold Carp Jack Fruit Mirrors (The Bitter Oleander Press, 2008), and Something Beautiful Is Always Wearing the Trees, with paintings by Alvaro Cardona-Hine (Stockport Flats, 2009). His most recent book, Kingdom of Throat-Stuck Luck, won the Elixir Press Poetry Prize and appeared in early 2012.
   George is also the author of a limited edition poetry pamphlet, Mingus Mingus Mingus (2010), which includes his poems about Charles Mingus, Art Blakey, Eric Dolphy, Kenny Dorham, Lee Morgan and Max Roach. The signed limited edition poetry pamphlet is available from Longhouse Publishers. Or email Longhouse at: poetry@sover.net.

Even the Java Sparrows Call Your Hair

He also writes a poetry column on the blues for the Chicago Blues Guide, a webzine dedicated to the preservation and promotion of the Chicago Blues scene. His poems for the webzine are archived at: http://www.chicagobluesguide.com/features/george-poems/blues-poetry-archive.html. One of his poems archived at Chicago Blues Guide is of particular interest to fans of the late Rory Gallagher. “One of Only Two” is a prose poem written for and about the Irish legend. The poem was originally published in Even the Java Sparrows Call Your Hair (Quale Press, 2004), a collection of his works that also includes poems for George Harrison, John Cipollina, Tommy Bolin, Randy California, Paul Kossoff, and others. Recently I got the chance to ask Mr. Kalamaras about his poem for Rory Gallagher:

I wrote the poem because I have been a huge fan of Rory’s since 1972 when I first heard his recordings. I grieved when he left the body, which is not always common when we haven’t physically known the person who has departed. In Rory’s case, though, his music had become such a part of my thinking and my life, even the early Taste lps, especially On the Boards. There was always something raw and guttural about both his guitar playing and his singing. His live recordings captured this best, my favorite being Rory Gallagher Live in Europe (1972), a landmark live recording that just blew me away when I first heard it (I even include reference in the poem to the shirt Rory is wearing on the album cover). In the poem, I was trying to convey both the grief I felt in his passing and some of the hardships and challenges he had, living the life he’d chosen as a bluesman in the old tradition. He never sold out and paid the price, but he also gained even more by not selling out, his music expressing something rich and deep and raw.

No, Rory never did sell out. He stayed true to his art, true to the Blues. As his brother Donal once remarked, “Rory literally lived and died the Blues.” With kind permission of the author, I’ve reposted George Kalamaras’ poem, “One of Only Two” below:


One of Only Two


for Rory Gallagher


I was saying your name, saying your name backwards that day. Like a contour map of your brain. It kept coming out monastic transplant on a hill. Then, fourteenth Irish rib. Then, peaceful pineal acrimony. Then, where are you? where are your shoes? You gifted me a riff about a “Laundromat.” About some woman swallowed in tattoos. Bee entrails as a form of flight? The ink blue blood of squids as what’s strong in my vein? I’d thought you alive, secreting my salt, till Ray told me–your liver bloated from pink to black to gold, like a carp dying then recanting the bruise. Strange draggling release of one’s color into the luminous texture of the next life. Rory, you played the blues as if they were inked indelibly into your skin.

Actually, into the liver. Compound, ventricular, versicle gland acting in the formation of blood. One of only two human organs with the capacity to self-regenerate. Beneath your red flannel plaid something was sallow, as if all the ink of your world squid-pressed into your shy and your almost, into the well- depths of your smoke-throttled voice.

It lodged there, spilling dark pearls backwards, each after the other, that shook like fierce maraca seeds against the gourd, that said extreme nutation and one way, do not enter and ask my name backwards but do the asking gently and in one of three separate voices.

From the alphabet, rare chemical dust. Interplanetary. Diurnal. As if the left foot of the goddess Kali firmed your chest and retracted from your duodenum each of the fifty-one letters of Sanskrit script into the garland of letters hung as skulls around her neck. I heard you wail with Taste on the Isle of Wight recording, stalk across the coals, blind yourself on each blurring seed. From within each sound, I heard the world dissolve. From peaceful pineal gland, I touched a little ground. From as though a dreaming electricity, a habile view.

There’s beauty, Rory, in the amber lamp, the one you leaned against and held as you steadied yourself for the bed. The thrips at the bottom of your gut release strange thriving sounds we all know, but never speak, like tribal dust dialects of Upper Mongolia, untranslatable. Like keeping the night in a bosk. Like shad scum from that gland, we’ve all camped in a thanage on the heath plain of your brain.

You did me right since I was sixteen. Did us all consistent with your plight,
as if you’d paddled yourself from Ballyshannon County, Donegal, up the
Mississippi with a bullfrog in your pocket and let it swallow insects along the
way, stinging the blues. I was saying your name today, saying it backwards.
It came out Irish fly swat. Then, Delta sunset hue. Then, pineal gland of
crudely bottled pain
. Then, where are you? where are your shoes?


“One of Only Two” previously appeared in three places: the magazine Gargoyle, 2005, No. 50, in a collection of the author’s poems, Even the Java Sparrows Call Your Hair, Quale Press, 2004, and on the Chicago Blues Guide website. Grateful acknowledgment to editors Richard Peabody, Gian Lombardo, and Linda Cain, respectively.


George Kalamaras and friend
George Kalamaras and friend

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