MELODY

I sing a shattered song
of someone else’s youth
the melody forgotten
the words faded into odd
syllables heard in my dreams.
The coyote stands at the edge
of a gully staring at me
and wondering why I slip
from the hogan through
the hole punched
in the back wall
slinking away
in the encroaching dark.
The priest, his saffron robes
pulled tight around his legs
in the morning chill,
stares as I run my hands
across the giant brass bell
feeling its resonance.
I hear the dirge
as sleep nips at the edge
of my consciousness
grabbing the frayed
margins of life

Published in These Lines, Fall 2020
https://theselines.org/these-lines-1.1-fall-2020.pdf

SONGWRITER

Bob Dylan is, to the best of my knowledge,
the only songwriter to successfully rhyme
outrageous and contagious, which doesn’t
explain why I knew I could never be
a successful songwriter in this life.

The explanation is far simpler, it was when
Leonard Cohen served me tea and apricots,
said he hated the river even living in Montreal
and said I should pack off to Florida or
California if I wanted oranges, though he
said, if I ever visited China, if I’d see
where their oranges came from.

We’re all older now, Leonard is dead
and even Bob admits he’s not sure
he’s younger now, but he says, Bob that is,
that I need to get over keeping up
with the Joneses, because in the final
analysis, we are all Jones at the end.

NOTING WEATHER

The weather, he announced to no one in particular,
ought to be musical or at least
incorporate some jazz.

Spring is bebop, Trane and Parker,
the sudden clash of Blakey
the downpours of Dizzy

and the hint of what’s to come
on the fingers of Monk, and
Kenny and Milt.

Summer brings the slow easing
as early Miles slides in, and we
sink into Chet and Stan.

Bebop returns as summer fades
but turns harder, with Dexter
Sonny and Benny and we know

that winter approaches, with its
disconcert, the sun an ever
more infrequent visitor,

Ornertte and Pharaoh reminding us
that the dark cold was our share
until Sun Ra appears on the horizon.

A SIMPLE SONG

It’s simple enough to write a song,
that’s what I heard him say,
and though I doubted that wholly
he say try, just give it a day.

I promised I would try to write
but I knew that I’d fail in time
for even Leonard Cohen now
and then used a subtle rhyme

and that is not something for which
I was ever cut out, I’m certain
and he laughed when I said I failed,
and retreating, pulled shut the blinds.

NOT SLEEPING NOW

The kid is late again today, but that
is sadly not unusual, the old man said.
I ought to get rid of him, but I know
he needs the job to feed his family.

In the meanwhile, I’ll now have
to hobble down to the meadow
and hope my collie, who’s as old as I,
is up to the job of herding sheep still.

And I know that he will only shrug
when I threaten to dock his pay
for the loss, hell, even just the profit
I lost on the corn the cows consumed.

I get that he’s tired, those late night
gigs at club in town, and I hear that
he’s thinking of joining a trio in Chicago,
though I have no idea how they ever

heard his playing out here in fly-over-ville,
but I guess I’d better let him get his rest,
for if he becomes a star, maybe he’ll
remember me in his first CD’s liner notes.

CAT (PSYCH)OLOGY

It wasn’t until I hit
middle age, which on my scale
will allow me to live past 100,
that I discovered that cats
are Celtic deep in their hearts.
Our cat, she who adopted me
and forced her then owner
to marry me, like it or not,
was in love with the tin whistle
and the uilleann pipes playing
had her in my lap, unmoving.
But she had her Buddhist side
as well, sitting zazen for hours,
longer if accompanied by
shakuhachi flutes. She said
that cats were discerning,
were connoisseurs of music
loved cello, viola and violin
but barely tolerated the bass.
It was why, she said, all
the great composers wrote
for the higher strings.
And, she would add,
as for dogs, well they
loved country music most,
reason enough for pity.

THE CLUB

It’s jazz, it’s a club,
but there what once was
is no more, there are
no ashtrays on the table,
overflowing early into
the second set, no cloud
of cigarette smoke descending
from the too dark ceiling.
There is no recognizable odor
of a freshly lit Gaulloise,
in the trembling fingers of
a young man trying to look cool,
trying not to cough on each
inhalation, in the calm fingers
of a young woman who
you know speaks the fluent
French of her homeland.
It is none of those things
but it is jazz, it is a club
and in this city, now, it must suffice.

HAIL AND FAREWELL

On very dreary days
I like to drive through the cemetery
meandering among the stones
until I find a freshly dug grave.
I stop, under the vigilant eye
of the caretaker and carefully place
a cassette of Dvorak’s Slavonic Dances
or Smetana’s Die Moldau into the player.
As the melodies spill forth
I hope they lift the spirit
of the resting, bringing them a moment
of unabashed joy, a memory to carry
into an eternity, a lingering riff, sweet
as the juice of the strawberry trickling
down the chin, a chocolate
slowly melting on the tongue.
Night will come soon enough
bringing a darkness in which they can see
their dreams take form
and seep away to mingle in the void.

First appeared in Aura Literary Arts Review Vol. 26, No. 1 (2000) and reprinted in Legal Studies Forum, Vol 30, Nos. 1-2 (2006)

THE REST OF THE STORY

It should be the stories
behind the stories that get told.
We have to blame the songwriters
I suppose, telling only the part
of the story they choose, leaving us
to sit and wonder, no answers, forthcoming.
We all know what happened to Billie Joe
and the damned Talahatchee Bridge, but how
did Becky Thompson snare the brother
and for that matter, why Tupelo?
And Mr. Jones, how does he know
what’s happening and not know what it is,
and why in the hell is he so thin?
But Suzanne, she was a real piece of work,
always with the river, but ask
all you want and she won’t say
what river it is and Jesus says, simply,
come back later, you’re not a sailor yet.