Marvin Gaye Warned Us

All that stood has fallen, all the windows broken

by promises. The inner-city collapses

into hopeless clatter. I once rode the raised subway

over the steam heat from men near financial ruin,

slumped by restless energy misplaced by failure

after failure, floundering past the grated gates

and wired windows of the liquor store robbed

seven times in one day. Next door is the hopeless

porn store with the blackened-eye woman

grasping at her fading beauty, one trick too many,

glaring at the holier-than-thou people entering

the church, recognizing half of the men.

And the hat women sneer at that tired-out woman

selling what remains of her last best year.

All who has fallen, once proud,

watch their moments rush by them,

uncommented, as I head elsewhere, a blur

into the future, only Marvin could see. 


There is a breeze, brother, shaking the trees,

rumbling like the subway taking a turn. All fallen

people are heading towards disaster at every exit.

And you saw it, Marvin, a comet coming

to take us all, grind us, wear us down.

Some saw the urban blight at each rough turn,

but still headed towards it like a sax solo.


You saw it, Marvin. It was 1971. I was back

from a war that tore your brother’s soul, spit it out,

gave him nothing to return to, certainly no jobs.

Some men were all bitter and bronzed by war,

unable to look at anyone without feeling ashamed.

The itchiness of protest simmered deep in our bones.


Marvin, you addressed our pain. Your sorrow poured

into a flute or robin’s solo. The earth was heaving pain.

Music came from the scarred land and people,

from graffiti walls and tenements with broken toilets,

from the churches offering salvation, from your song

on the radio. Some still run head-long over a cliff.


Forty-five years later, Marvin, you’re still warning us.

All that had fallen, once stood, once had music.

Makes me wanna holler.

What are you looking for?