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.

ONE DAY

We stood trapped between
slack-jawed and reverent
looking at the woman sitting
cross-legged outside the doorway
lovingly fashioning a pot,
her gnarled fingers gentle
on the yielding clay.

Others this day fashioned
rings and pendants
simple tools on silver
and one of a kind treasures
they would lay out
on blankets hoping we
would want more
than just a photograph.

Our day on the Taos Pueblo
ended too early, its
memories lingering
a lifetime.

Bodhidharma’s Mind 無門關 四十一

Walk slowly up to Bodhidharma
but do not pull him away
from the wall before which he sits.
Keep your arms close about you
lest you cannot grasp
what he will ask.

Hold tight to your mnd
for it will grow still only
as it slips through your fingers
When you see it fade away
Samadhi bathes you.

A reflection on Case 41 of the Mumonkan (Gateless Gate) koans.

THE WALL

The wall is black granite,

highly polished be an unseen hand

and the fingers of countless thousands

present but each unseen by the others.

At first glance you want to count

the names, but you lack fingers

enough for the task and others

are quickly withdrawn as are their eyes.

You know where the names are,

Willy, who they now call William,

Little Joey, who was so large in your

memory, climbing into the cockpit.

You wonder if things had been different,

if you hadn’t enlisted, chosen

the Air Force, if the Draft Board

anointed you cannon fodder, who

would trace their fingers along

the cold unfeeling stone that has

been washed by untold tears bidding

you farewell or thanks, rarely both.

We have grown so good at wars

we no longer need etched walls,

bronze statues, for before a design

is complete, the next must be begun.

First published in The Parliament Literary Magazine – Issue 5- Masks and Manes 

RECITAL

The keys didn’t frighten me. 88 of them, but I’d never use the majority, probably. And the ones I knew were generally well behaved, although they did defy me from time to time, and then said it was my fault, they didn’t respond to wishes, just fingers, And even the audience didn’t bother me, not even those who were still awake.. They were all parents like mine, and I knew no matter how I played the piece, well, badly, brilliantly, or disastrously, the composer would be silent and the audience full of compliments. My fellow pianists wouldn’t even hear it, heard nothing if they hadn’t yet played, kept replaying their piece in their head if they had.

TAILORING

My adoptive
grandfather 
could take bits
of cloth, 
a needle, thread
and with magicly
gnarled fingers
create a garment
fit for royalty, 
to be worn
by the old woman
living 
in the walkup 
down the street.

I take words
bits of ideas
and hope,
and with 
manicured fingers
create what
I can only hope
passes for poetry
to be ignored
by those
living nearby
in my suburb.

TAKING

You can take my sight,
but my mind will still see what it must,
and my fingers will become eyes.
You can take my hearing,
I will imagine what I must,
and my eyes will become ears.
You can take my tongue,
but my body will shout what I must,
and my hands will speak volumes.
The only thing you cannot take
is my words, for without them
my prison would be complete
and I would be rendered mute,
deaf and blind, and that is a fate
from which I could never hope to emerge.

Reprised from March 28, 2016

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.

ANTWERP

It is seven in the morning
Antwerp arises slowing in winter
the small bar along seldom
used quays of Schelde
is almost empty, one old man
tottering on his stool
swaying to breath
head pressed on the counter.
Young couple, she brown haired
pale white skin against white
sweater, he long blond
woven into a ponytail
draped over the faded
denim jacket.
Her fingers
entwined in his, they stared
now, again sipping , she
Stella Artois, he Duvel.
He would paint,
when there was light
and when not, his fingers
would play across her belly
her breasts and mons
as they had in darkness
slowly receding, touching
canvas mind filling
with images cast in oils,
she would cast words
as ancient runes, telling
of times gone, to come,
and in night he would rise
into her, interlocked
sweat running across
his chest, pooling
in his navel.
She touched
his lips, sucked her finger
and put match
to cigarette, drawing
deeply of the morning
carried on river breezes.


First Appeared in Coffee and Chicory, Vol. 5, 1997.