LIONEL HAMPTON AND THE GOLDEN MEN OF JAZZ

Blue Note, pardon
our construction
black painted
plasterboard
a hanging
air conditioning duct.

Grady Tate
sneering at the skins
growling at a high hat
hands shifting
deftly reaching in
picking a beat
and sliding it
over the crowd.

Jimmy Woode
blind to the lights
slides his fingers
over strings
and talks to the bass
resting on his shoulder.
It sings back
begging , pleading
demanding as his head
sways with an inner vision.

Junior Mance
sways slowly fingers
tentative on ivory plates
crawling through the alley
scurrying for cover
and strutting down Broadway
ablaze in neon
dancing through Harlem
and sliding into the East River.

Pete Candoli
white against the night
smiles as his horn
cries out, a siren
piercing the dark
reaching up grabbing
your throat, throttling
then caressing your face
until you fall
into your seat, spent.

Harry “Sweets” Edison
wrinkled jowls suck in
the city, smooth ebony balloon
shouting from balconies
to revelers below
and mourning a love,
crying in the streets
dashing out of a basement
flat, a child crying
mother screaming in birth
a young man
groaning in orgasm.

Benny Golson
hair tied back
swaying, runs up the stairs
pauses, and leaps out
into the air
and flies off
laughing at the city
huddled below
its collar turned
against the wind
off the river.

Frank Foster
sits on the stool
and strokes
his sax, coaxing it
peering out around
a corner, slipping inside
then running down the street
dancing between taxis,
then striding down
Bourbon Street
the pall bearers
strutting behind.

Al Grey, stands
arm waving, a manic
conductor, it whispers
beckoning, then hums
droning, then slowly
it moves the fan
giving a glimpse
dragging the boa
drawing all eyes
as she passes into the wings
sticking her head out
smiling at the cheers.

Hampton leans
on the vibraphone
seeking balance,
and old man bent
from age, lost amid children.
Mallets slowly rise and fall
gaining speed
rushing out
glissando of sound
his hands flashing
the crowd rises
and there comes
silence.

First Appeared in Pointed Circle, Issue 15, 1999.

PERSPECTIVE

It will soon enough be time again,
I am an old clockface on a tower
at which no one but the truly bored
bother to look, tucked in a corner
of a village half empty, its life
moved away to places cooler,
less stormy. So I sit and watch
what life remains around me,
the few children wishing they
could be elsewhere, some parents
wishing they had used birth control.
No one looks, no one really cares
but I have little choice, it is my fate
to mark passages, entrances,
but my hands are growing tired
and at some not far off point
they will stop moving, and I
wonder if anyone will care.

MARCH ON

We marched regularly, often carring placards,
this week against an insane war
in a place we had no busines being,
next week for the racial justice
promised for a century but never delivered,
and then for the ecology, trying to save
the world that our parents promised
for us as little children and failed
to provide, choking through the smog
and the teargas, scraping knees
on the concrete as we were pushed
back, pushed away, pushed into a corner.

Then we were marching in uniform,
across the pavement in Texas, Lackland,
Fort Sam Houston, sergeants always by
our sides, always willing to remind us
that we were dirt, incompetent, useless,
but they’d make us into soldiers, they
would find the cohesiveness we lacked.

Now we are struggling not to march,
not to be lemmings headed for the cliff,
not to give up the small victories
once won,not at war now, still searching
for justice for all, still chokng
on the air we have made putrid,
and we teach our grandchildren
how to march, how never to give up.

WHERE? EXACTLY!

In Yuma, Arizona today, I have no idea what might have happened. Once, without going to a library and rummaging through microfiche in the dust laden corner of the second basement, I would never be able to find out. And if I did, I would wonder why there was not some simpler way of finding out. Now I can search the internet and know what did happen and what some think happened. I can find truth and conspiracies involving Yuma. It will take some time, but it can be done with relative ease. The problem is that I couldn’t care less what happened in Yuma today or most any day.

ANGLE OF INCIDENCE

Dusk reflects dawn much as
dawn reflects dusk, and it is
our fear of night and deep need
for direction that sets them apart.

Imagine a photograph of the sun
hovering just over the horizon,
compass-less we do not know
what preceded, what will follow.

We prefer day and dawn, for
it is then we feel in control,
our thoughts leashed, our fears
locked away from sight and touch.

Dusk promises only night,
the darkness where our fears
find corners in which to hide,
only to spring out unwanted.

So we turn away from the sky,
unsinged by its flaming beauty,
hide ourselves from and in fear
as nature laughs at our foolishness.

GENTO’S AXE 鐵笛倒吹 八十二

You sit before him
an axe in his hand.
He asks a question and says
if you answer I will cut off
your right hand,
if you do not respond
I will sever your left.

There is no sound
from the clock in the corner
as you silently grab his axe
and he smiles
in deeply shared knowledge.

A reflection on Case 82 of the Iron Flute Koans

WAITING, STILL

I stood on the corner
waiting patiently for you.

It seemed like hours.

It was probably minutes
but Einstein was right
about relativity also.

You never arrived,
but I hadn’t expected
you to do so, that was
the nature of us.

I will wait again
in two weeks.

Same corner as usual,
but an hour earlier.

You will not show up
and will offer the same
excuse you do always.

Why do you assume
being dead excuses
your duties as the parent
I never got to meet?

IN A CORNER

First of all, Jack, you were sent to the corner for a reason. That pie was for everyone, not just you, we have told you endlessly about how wrong selfishness is. You won’t listen. And how many times do we have to tell you to use a fork or a spoon. Not only did you ruin the pie, no one wants to eat what is left once you put your hand in it. And how are we supposed to get that stain off your white shirt? Good boy? Oh, no, anything but, so you are grounded for a week.

FESTIVAL

They ebb and flow
like tides down the half-empty street
from venue to venue,
many with that lost look
of years in the desert, driven
on by promised
the land of honey notes,
the mother’s milk of jazz.
The event passes flap in the breeze
created by their wake, some
checking programs, their
personal map to the festival.
We stand on the corner
watching humanity engage
in the ritual we, after 14 years,
have chosen now only to observe.

AROUND EVERY CORNER

They hide in corners, and you think
you can see them, but you cannot be certain
for they are vague and could be no more
than wishes, but belief is sufficient.
As you grow older, the number of corners grow
and a universe of but eight corners
is now itself tucked in a corner of memory.
One corner hides the face of the man
who adopted me, watched for two years,
before departing suddenly, and the only item
I have is his diploma rolled up in a tube
where my own accomplishments are rolled.
In another corner the day I met the man
I now call father is so deeply buried
only his present, increasingly absent
aging face is all I can see.
Memories are elusive, appearing
and disappearing without warning
day by day the oldest evanesce
and that corner is filled
by another memory grown vague.