Solos poems by Al Basile

picture of Al Basile
Photo by Meghan Sepe.  

Readers of Al Basile’s poetry have been transported by their music, linguistic virtuosity, energy, and variety of wide-ranging themes. The reviews of his earlier books have been universally enthusiastic. About Lit House, Dana Gioia has written: “Al Basile’s poems have style, joy, and—above all—verve.  Sometimes they unfold with the lyric expansiveness of great jazz solos. Sometimes they shine as beautifully jeweled miniatures. What a pleasure to read a book of poems with such unabashed energy.  Timothy Steele adds this:  “Whether writing about music or baseball, childhood friends or the frail and aging Jorge Luis Borges, he trains a fresh and sympathetic eye on his subject. ‘We love it when the ring of truth is strange,’ he says, and this observation could almost serve as a motto for his poems, for they repeatedly arrest us with both their stable truths and their appealing surprises.   Concerning Tonesmith, Rhina P. Espaillat says that Al Basile “produces poems that are almost holographic in their insistence on bringing their author into the reader’s space, where he—his tone of voice, body language and facial expressions—constitute an uncanny presence. The very title of the book identifies the author as a music-maker determined to be heard, and as a poet whose first concern is achieving the tone in which he wants to be heard by the reader.”  

Born in Haverhill, Mass., Al Basile was the first to receive a Master’s degree from Brown University’s writing program. He was the first trumpet player for Roomful of Blues in the mid-Seventies, and since the eighties has appeared as writer and horn player on albums and DVDs by Roomful founder Duke Robillard. He formed his own record company Sweetspot Records in 1998, and has released eighteen solo albums featuring almost 200 of his songs. He has been nominated eight times for a Blues Music Award, including one in 2016 as Best Contemporary Blues Album for his CD Mid-Century Modern.

  Solos cover image
  Cover painting by Robert G. Hamilton (“There’ll Never Be Another Rudy Vallee”).

His songs have been covered by Ruth Brown, Johnny Rawls, and the Knickerbocker All Stars. Guests on his own releases include the Blind Boys of Alabama, Sista Monica Parker, Sugar Ray Norcia, Jerry Portnoy, and jazz great Scott Hamilton.

Celebrated for his mastery of lyric writing as well as music, Al’s skill with words extends to his other career as a poet: he is published regularly in leading journals and has two previous books, A Lit House (Winnikinni Press, 2012), and Tonesmith (Antrim House, 2017). He won the Meringoff Award for Poetry in 2015, and his verse radio play Flash Blind was featured at the HEARnow festival for American audio theater in the summer of 2020.

He was a teacher of English, music, and physics in a private Rhode Island high school for 25 years before devoting himself to music and poetry full time in 2005. He has given talks on lyric writing at Boston University, and for the last two years he has taught lyric writing, led panels, and performed at the West Chester Poetry Conference. In 2020 he became a member of the Powow River poets.

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ISBN 978-1-943826-78-0
First Edition, 2021
240 pages

The author’s reading of the poems in this book may be accessed at
Copies of the book are available at

and also at all bookstores, including Amazon.


copyright © 2021 by Al Basile


A Case for Meaning


Light was alive before the eye to see it,
granting some worm an edge that urged the organ
into being, the better for the bearer
to survive. Selection over time
bred sight into successful organisms.

Or was the visible also (or only)
finding a way to realize itself
more completely through a vehicle,
emerging into new versions of power?
The eye, in seeing, licenses the light.

By being conscious, we are sensitive
to time, susceptible to consequence:
meaning is made perceptible to us.
The organ of discernment is refined,
the better to prepare us for a world
where someone’s reasons lurk behind the curtain.

Meaning is real in us; we are its agents,
the first through whom it can confirm itself.
Both in and of the world, we license it
the better to equip us for the real.
Declare all meaningless at your own peril!
Deny the light, condemn yourself to darkness.

Building the Artificial Woman


The first attempts were beautiful but perfect.
So flaws were added, which was an improvement.
A voice came next, to make sounds of approval,
and customers began to ask for movement.

That was enough to satisfy the many,
but some began to clamor for expression,
at least to mimic registering pleasure.
A discerning few made a confession:

They hankered after giving it free will.
Being chosen wasn’t any fun
when all the votes were counted in advance
and all the choices narrowed down to one.

They wanted something personal – to feel
loved, when love might well have been withheld
by one who offered company each day
and chose to stay without being compelled.

This proved a challenge, but the next design
was a best seller. Then there came a man
who took exception to the operation.
“I want,” he said, “what isn’t in your plan.

I want someone to disagree, but stay;
who tells me when I’m wrong, and makes me see
how to do better, but still leaves the chance
to me to make the same mistake again.

Who likes to pay attention to attention,
but understands it when I sometimes don’t.
When she’s invited to take sides against me,
she’listens diplomatically, but won’t.

Who asks me if I like it first, but wears
a hat because she likes to wear a hat,
and when I compliment her on her choice,
she doesn’t worry what I mean by that.

Who thinks my chicken cutlets are sublime.
and moves the car when I’m too beat to drive.
Who laughs because she gets I’m being funny,
and smiles because it’s hard to be alive.

Who’ll never be a servant or a master
but wants to work together as a team,
and build over a lifetime love familiar,
instead of holding out for love supreme.

Can you put all that into a machine?”
The builders smiled. “If that’s the way you feel,
what you want is a woman. What we make
are fakes. But most prefer them to the real.”

Falling Asleep


At night when lying on my back in bed
I fold my hands, first one way, then another:
knit up my fingers, left hand first, then right;
or lay one palm down flat against the other’s
back, then switch, and think about the change
in how the different figurations feel.

While all are mostly similar, the subtle
settling of the crossing bones, and shifting
surfaces of skin, though unimportant,
occupy my mind with differences,
and slowly open up the way to sleep.

They have until tonight, that is – tonight
the differences point me back awake,
and put me on a wonder of the night
when one will feel exactly like another.

How I Learned About Blindness


Inexplicably, his face untroubled,
my best friend’s little brother stood atop
a pile of blown out tires left of the entrance
to the truck barn where my father’s men
housed their plows and tree-cutting equipment.

He held his head dead even with a row
of windows which extended on both sides
behind him, patient as we older boys
picked up the rocks. The game we’d just invented
was Miss-His-Head-But-Still-Break-All-The-Windows.

An almost wholly unsupported trust
buoyed up his grin as we took careful aim,
and we were likewise blindly confident.
We chucked the rocks. The shatter of the glass
was such a hollow, satisfying sound.

When more than sixty years had passed, I asked
if he remembered how he’d felt, and why
he’d done it. He admitted sheepishly
that to this day he couldn’t understand;
it must have been “stone cold stupidity.”

And yet blind trust and confidence had both
been vindicated: one undamaged boy,
one bank of windows broken. How did Fate
not crush us all for tempting it so rashly?
For one time only, blindness was a charm.

Other Waters of March


An easy breeze has broken winter’s back,
and sunlight stands up straighter on the snow.
whose softening awakes the almanac.
Melt water lisps its trickling undertow.

With each day in the forties through the week,
the last storm’s cover can’t help giving way;
What would it say, the snow, if it could speak?
“I’ve hidden everything, but I can’t stay.

The day is coming when the secrets kept –
all of them, both rare and ordinary,
so long forgotten by you as they slept,
will lie exposed again, open to query.

New bloom and festering: you must expect them.
Each to its fate, now that I can’t protect them.”

The Magi Lose Their Way

Christmas Day, 2016


On our journey from the Eastern lands
the new star in the night sky kept us on
the path through many difficulties.
Out of compass from our constellations,
it made an easy guide, glowing and low
hovering above that distant place
where lay the infant king we’d heard about.

But on the way we passed a city ruined,
desolated utterly by war.
Not one stone there stood upon another;
no one could be found to tell us how
or why they’d met their fate, but smoke hung thick
above the rubble, troubling the sky,
as though the earth had somehow wrapped itself
in its own winding cloth. The crackling embers
in the wreckage made the only sound,
their faint, dull glow the only dying light.

The waste of that place made us pause, until
we saw the grounded sky bereft of stars
and realized we’d lost sight of our guide.
What heaven had provided, men on earth
had labored to obscure. Which was our way?
At first we were despondent, overwhelmed
to think that such fair promise could be lost.
Contagious in that place, the darkness dimmed
our faith itself, and it was tempting to
sit down, curse humankind, and brood on chaos.

But that would end our journey. Then the dark
itself, tasting of iron, gave us the answer:
the ash that clots our lungs and coats our tongues,
the grit that irritates our eyes, and sticks
between our teeth, this shroud that pins us down
to earth, is just another kind of cloud;
the stars we reckon by still burn beyond.
We are without original direction,
but any heading is away from death.

So we set out again despite confusion,
blinded by what men do in this world
but trusting if we stayed on any path,
however crooked man has made the maze,
we would regain our sight, reorient
ourselves, begin anew – and yet attain
what may be reached from any starting point:
the sacred ground of the nativity.

The Uses of Ignorance

If you can look into the seeds of time,
and say which grain will grow and which will not . . .
                                                      MacBeth I, iii


Today is spring; tomorrow will be winter.
The radar shows a snake-like front along
the coast from Hatteras on up to Maine,
and temperatures will plunge, with snow to follow.

Growing up almost a hundred years
ago, my father learned how not to trust
blue skies and sixty on a February
day here in New England, but he had
no way to tell what would be coming next.
Every lesson took him by surprise,
so he became resilient to fate.

I can see the future, serpentine,
arriving overnight, blind to intent.
Beyond the stocking up on milk and bread,
my inner weather would survive as well
without a forecast. Better not to know,
submitting to the hammer blows that shape us
until we are prepared for anything.
Don’t anticipate, I say: be ready.

Youth in Age


Once it’s driven from the body, youth
retreats to the recesses of the mind,
where it continues to proclaim its truth.
It needn’t be completely left behind.

It can live on, in a hiding place
eyes of the unbelievers never see
when noticing the wrinkles in a face,
or measuring the stiffness of a knee.

Discovering a fearlessness, it chooses
which emerging challenges to try;
granting itself permission, it refuses
to give up wonder or stop asking why.

Youth takes more practice after twenty-one.

Find someone old to show you how it’s done.