The Lingua Franca of Ninth Street


In stock

poems by

Randall Horton

Poetry book, 90 pages, $14 cover price

ISBN: 978-1-59948-191-3

Release date: 2009


Randall Horton, originally from Birmingham, Alabama, resides in Albany, New York and is a former recipient of the Gwendolyn Brooks Poetry Prize. His first book The Definition of Place was a finalist for the Main Street Rag Book Award and was published in their Editor’s Select Series in 2006. Randall is the current poetry editor of Reverie: Midwest African American Literature and co-editor of Fingernails Across the ChalkboardPoetry and Prose on HIV/AIDs from the Black Diaspora (Third World Press, 2007). He is also the editor of four children anthologies. He received his undergraduate education at both Howard University and The University of the District of Columbia (B.A. English). He has a MFA in Creative Writing with an emphasis in Poetry from Chicago State University and a PhD in Creative Writing from SUNY Albany. Randall is a Cave Canem fellow and most recently his poems, fiction and nonfiction appear in the following anthologies and journals: Motif: Writing by Ear, Mosaic, Black Renaissance, Crab Orchard Review and The Red Clay Review.

The Lingua Franca of Ninth Street is an uncommon achievement. What begins in one common language of grit and bought oblivion moves through violence and violated souls from “can’t to can.” And the movement of one soul, representative of so many, in the hands of gifted poet Randall Horton is filled with music, exquisite pain, horror and a hard won redemption. The Lingua Franca of Ninth Street is a truly important, startling and deftly crafted work. It is so good sometimes it aches and causes us to ache. Each poem is an artistic and social revelation that leads through time to a shining place for Horton and us as readers.

–Angela Jackson

Like Leadbelly’s beautiful ugly Delta blues these poems sing. The dirges and ballads from Ninth Street to the cellblock to their destiny on these pages will cease to be unheard.Horton is a brilliant and wise survivor of the post-modern great migration. His eye and ear and pen are sharper than Rev. Ezell’s suit! This collection is a relief map for a new masculinity. This poet shows us the way.

—Frank X Walker

The poems in The Lingua Franca of Ninth Street are like meditations that fracture us into a burning reflection. This is the mediated life personified through Lyric; the dead coming to radiant life after leaving blood and heart on the street. When I think of that old axiom about the difference between religious and spiritual people (religious folks are afraid to go to Hell; spiritual folks already been there), I think of these poems. Randall Horton is a spiritual poet and we’ll all be better for letting him be our guide.

—Willie Perdomo


Three in the morning & jeweled moonlight oozes
through riverbed darkness

into an alley squeezed on both sides
by deserted rowhouses.

Silver bathes a man’s skin who can see heaven.

A corroded cylinder delivers crushing blow after blow
between rain-black eyes

until red no longer dazzles.

Crushed bone & chunks of skin sing violently
in the wind swirl.

Maybe the man contemplates family or the prostitute’s
fantastical hips

pulling him to this prayer altar–
the terrible audacity of nightlife manifested,

& how russet leaves spiral downward screaming
dear mercy.

Hope is an optical illusion.

From the third floor, I witness it all
in a urine & feces soiled room.

Cradling a can crowned of cigarette ashes
I draw hard a curving yellow-blue flame

& exhale plumes of smoke.

The man no longer breathes & there are no words
to flush from my mouth

stuck in the shape of an O–



The granddaddy, from Mississippi
red mud, migrated to DC with gospel
& the breeze of Emmett Till’s cry
ringing his ears like a field holler.

A slow harmonic voice, he could
pluck a guitar & keep four/four time,
sing brackish sorrow in the low note–
make a woman swallow laughter.

His father grew up 60s Motown
on Trinidad, rehearsing lyrics
under a whirling glow of streetlight
on the corner of 8th & Florida Avenue.

Rhythm was his middle name. He crooned
to chocolate dips in crinoline skirts
until one delivered a boy, born on the day
Marvin Gaye took his last poetic bow.

Twenty years later this boy, scion
of blues &s index fingered baselines,
seed of wanna be hipster & sweet talker
has found a motif mirroring his heritage.

Sitting flush to a wall at the Green Line
Metro stop–broken twig in each hand,
he does a drum roll on five gallon buckets,
beaded cornrows thrashing wildly about.

His unlaced Timberlands tap the cement
on the first down beat–he bangs the cowbell
not once but twice, & begins to howl
the call & response of his generation.



Five days through wind & snow we have hidden beneath gray clouds–inhaled
crisp air only when a slow wheeling hoopty enters the block from 14th Street:
windows roll down
& a split second to exchange product for dollar bills then back
to the storefront crevices we return. Last week Dirty Reds got popped, his left testicle
exploding from the impression of a .44 long. Big Foots served an undercover
& immediately was escorted to mandatory jail time at Lorton, & yet today
there is a moratorium on our block, a stand fast on shell casings & turf ownership.
We huddle in Ms. Trudy’s apartment, watch black & white footage of King
while she recites memories of being thumb tacked by jet streams of water.
You boys don’t know shit bout the 60s, she says.
The television screen displays the roped off yellow tape outlining a Memphis motel
conceived from an assassin’s rifle:
the jaundice color of death. Kings vision is not ours,
but we give dap, mad love–knowing we are willing to die for much less.


(for Francine)

A woman presents
a purple nettle,
its fragrance ambrosia-like.

I wonder if she senses
the stale odor I carry
of penitentiary in my nostrils,

does she know
after the iron bars vanished,
I shouted a thunderous echo–

Fractured & now mended
by words acting as splints,
the braided river of my past

no longer form brooklets,
the vacant purpose in my walk
muscular with compass.

In December cold, that day
life washed through the body,
each vein baptized anew until

my eyes dilated freedom,
& instantly I wanted
to play with a woman’s pulse

as gravity released
the heavy load I’ve carried
too long in undefined space.

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