Poet Of The Week

John Murillo

     February 11–17, 2013

John Murillo’s first poetry collection, Up Jump the Boogie, was a finalist for both the 2011 Kate Tufts Discovery Award and the PEN Open Book Award. His other honors include a 2011 Pushcart Prize, two Larry Neal Writers Awards, and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Cave Canem Foundation, the New York Times, the Wisconsin Institute of Creative Writing, Bread Loaf Writers Conference, and the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Massachusetts. Currently, he serves on the creative writing faculty at New York University.

Enter the Dragon

           —Los Angeles, California, 1976

For me, the movie starts with a black man
Leaping into an orbit of badges, tiny moons

Catching the sheen of his perfect black afro.
Arc kicks, karate chops, and thirty cops

On their backs. It starts with the swagger,
The cool lean into the leather front seat

Of the black and white he takes off in.
Deep hallelujahs of moviegoers drown

Out the wah wah guitar. Salt & butter
High-fives, Right on, brother! and Daddy

Glowing so bright he can light the screen
All by himself. This is how it goes down.

Friday night and my father drives us
Home from the late show, two heroes

Cadillacking across King Boulevard.
In the car’s dark cab, we jab and clutch,

Jim Kelly and Bruce Lee with popcorn
Breath, and almost miss the lights flashing

In the cracked side mirror. I know what‟s
Under the seat, but when the uniforms

Approach from the rear quarter panel,
When the fat one leans so far into my father‟s

Window I can smell his long day’s work,
When my father—this John Henry of a man—

Hides his hammer, doesn’t buck, tucks away
His baritone, license and registration shaking as if

Showing a bathroom pass to a grade school
Principal, I learn the difference between cinema

And city, between the moviehouse cheers
Of old men and the silence that gets us home.

–From Up Jump the Boogie, Cypher Books, 2010.

Tell us about the making of this poem.

I carried that memory with me for so many years that by the time I got it to ink, it was probably equal parts fact and myth. Who knows how time distorts. Sometimes I even wonder if building the poem–draft after draft–created the narrative, the memory.

What are you working on right now?

Just working on the next decent line. If I get that, I’m happy.

How long have you lived in Brooklyn? What neighborhood do you live in? What do you like most about it?

I’ve been in Brooklyn for only a few months. My fiancee lives here, so I’ve been visiting for a while. But not until very recently did I get my own set of keys. We live in Crown Heights. What do I like most about it? It’s close to most of the people I love. That’s everything.

Favorite Brooklyn poet(s), dead and/or alive?

Walt Whitman, hands down. Then, I’d have to say Phil Levine. Each has taught me in his own way what it means to give one’s life to this.

Favorite Brooklyn bookstore?

Greenlight Bookstore!! Such an amazing space. Great selection. Friendly and smart employees. I PRAY PRAY PRAY that they stay around! I hear rents are rising like crazy over there.

Favorite places to read and write in Brooklyn (besides home, assuming you like to be there)?

I haven’t really found my spot yet. Still looking …

Favorite places to go in Brooklyn not involving reading or writing?

PeachesCheryl’sLuzChavelas. So much good eating here!

Last awesome book(s) you read?

Greg Orr’s Concerning the Book That is the Body of the Beloved. He blew my shit wide open with that one. The way he works the short lyric. Mercy.

Fill in the blanks in these lines by Whitman:

I celebrate micheladas and fish tacos,
And what I throw down you should kill too,
For every helping, every round on me as good should be
     matched by

Why Brooklyn?

It’s where my lady stays.