Trading Sequences

by Richard Levine and Michael T. Young

These poems were written in response to each other, following the jazz impr0vizational style called Trading Fours.  Like jazz musicians improvising, keenly tuned to the possible variations in melody and the rhythm of the melody, these poems play off each other’s words, sonics, syntax, images and/or themes.  There are two Trading sequences here, of two poems each.  Because of the way they were created we ask that each sequence be considered as a whole; we are not interested in individual poems being published out of the sequence or for the order of the poems to be changed.  For the same reason, it is important that the dates of the exchanges be listed with the poem titles.  

We have been Trading Fours since 2020 and have written over 150 poem-exchanges.

Trading Sequence 1

A Cricket House
Michael Young, August 30, 2022

The cricket in the holly
is more at home
than I will ever be.

I hear him all summer,
how he holds his note
like a lantern in the hedges.

It’s a light but also a warmth
that soothes even when the air
smothers us in its shawls.

Once, alone in a country
so far away, even language
couldn’t reach me,

I heard a cricket start chirping
somewhere, and from that night
there was nowhere else to be.

Willed to Hope
Richard Levine, August 31, 2022

Language could not reach
where speech abandoned you.
As suddenly as clothespins
might lose their grip to a feral wind,
the clean hang of utterable reason was ripped
from the line that strung your words and songs
to your tongue.  And off they went, flying
as untamed as stringless kites.

I saw your lips and tongue struggle
in vain to shape speech, the muscular
memory needed beyond your reach.  And I saw
fear take hold of your eyes; your head shaking,
like a lantern swaying in the invisible hands
of someone crossing a night field …  No hands?
No face?   What to make of such an eerie glow,
but the show and curtain of the never again?

Yet, as if you willed us to hope, we pinned
our voices and spirits to the lean hang
of your narrative lines, wanting to believe them
ongoing, utterable and present, as the green light
from the autumn tree outside your window.
Friends bearing flowers see that your hair is combed,
your dignity buttoned, and that your guitar leans
an invitation against a chair, like a candle in a window.//… in the wind.

Trading Sequence 2

Maps and Measures
Richard Levine, May 26, 2020

If not you and I, who knows all
the maps and measures that pointed us
to this moment; who cherishes
even its slump into couch cushions
and end-of-day postures, that sign
semaphore for tired spirits and limbs?

Aren’t we, after all, the sole cartographers
of our desires?  Didn’t we venture through
the uncharted, not guided by stars, tides
or coordinates but by love; whose topography
we still find and catalogue and believe exists
in the realm of us?  And look, isn’t that the musk-
flower we know and love and study for the way
it always turns its face to the sun?

Lover’s Cartography
Michael Young, June 8, 2020

It started in the realm of museums,
leaning into black and white photos,
wandering out for lunch in the light
of our first stories holding hands.

Then it migrated to the stacks
in used bookstores, kisses
among the poetry and drama,
conversations in the rhythm of sonnets.

But there were corners of our
expanding kingdom we hadn’t explored,
and so, we took a jet to Venice, threaded
the canals with our early chronicles,

set off to Paris, crossed its bridges
in the sweet aroma of sliced apples
and pears picked from the markets—
each day chasing down sunsets,

walking toward the expanding measure
of our intimacies, a map charting the vast
regions of our domain, every country
given another name for home.