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.

AVIAN CONUNDRUM

The woodpeckers here seem
quite content to beat their heads
against palm trees, which I am not
certain should qualify as trees,
not a ring to be seen if you cut
one down, but they tend to fall
before you get to that point.

The most common woodpecker
is the red bellied, which itself
is odd since his head is bright red
his belly with a pinkish tinge,
but that is so Florida I suppose
naming things for what you want
but not at all what they seem to be.

I could go on but the ibis are upset
that an armadillo is wander across
the yard interrupting their lunch.

I HAVE NEVER BEEN

six foot four with a full head
of longish brown hair neatly cut

five foot ten as the Air Force
claimed although I never
conformed to their assumption

sitting on the deck of a yacht
trying to decide if it was
sufficiently large enough
to meet my desires

sitting on a beach in Hawaii
my oceanside villa
mere steps away,
the housekeeper beckoning
with a freshly made drink

lying in Arlington Cemetery
my life marked by a simple
white stone marker, name,
religion, and branch of service

But I am here, writing this,
and have no real complaints.

THE HOUSE ON PEABODY

It was brick, red I am told.
on a quiet street not far
from 16th Street and its traffic.
It was small, but a good home
for a couple with a child or two
in the heart of the District.

I have no recollection of it,
save the tile, black and white
in the bathroom, the radiator
on which I hit my head,
and the front stoop, and that
only in the picture of me
in his arms, my father,
the man who adopted me
and later a baby girl, then
dropped dead one morning
of a massive coronary.
I have no recollection
of him, of the sister taken away,
or the house, but I mourn then all.

A BUFFALO PASSES 無門關 三十八

Staring out, watch the bull
walk slowly past
along the old road.
Marvel at his horns,
the flare of his nostrils
in his massive head,
his breath hanging
in the early morning chill.

Mark each leg, its
muscles rippling, as it passes.
You feel you know the beast
but only if you close your eyes
can you grasp its tail.

A reflection on Case 38 of the Mumonkan (Gateless Gate Koans)

PATIENCE

Even a cat knows when the screen is on Zoom, you sit and wait. Or stick your head in the picture so all can acknowledge your presence. Either works, and you know patience is not a virtue, but at times a necessity. You are a cat, after all. Patience is for dogs, poor beasts, having to be walked regularly. There is no freedom being a dog, and when they call you bad, that day is shot for you and you slink off. But cats must sometimes be patient when they are on Zoom, but it gives you time to plot your revenge, which the humans will never expect, but always soon enough forgive.

BEARDED

It is growing more common for men
of a certain age, one I have attained,
to grow beards, and that was before
the pandemic made them ubiquitous
among those of the male gender.

I noted this aloud and a young child
smiled at me and said, “of course,
you have to have a beard because
the hair inside your head has to go
somewhere other than your bald head.”

IBIS SEEING YOU

They pause
in their foraging in the lawn
to peer up at us,
strange looking interlopers,
but they are used 
to us by now
and return 
to the task at hand.

We no longer 
find them strange
though we never quite
get used to the curved
salmon colored beaks,
and we do wonder
why the ancient 
Egyptians held 
them sacred.

It seems that they
have never forgiven
their Egyptian ancestors
from affixing
their head 
to a man, god
or no god, he
couldn’t find
a grub if his life
depended on it.

INSIDE THE PAGE

She asks innocently,
listening to the wind whispering
through the bare branches of the oak,
“How long have you lived
in this poem,” pointing
to the page of marked
and remarked typescript.
He looks at her as if discovering
she’d grown another head,
peeking out from between
her well-polished teeth.
“I have no idea what you mean,”
he says, “I write the poems—
it is up to you to furnish them.”
She grimaces, “That’s so wrong,”
a third head appeared, grinning,
“if you build poems on spec
they are sterile little boxes
that you foist off on the unwary.
Plant all the flowers you want
around it, it will still
have the antiseptic smell
should we dare step into it.
That’s just the difference
between us,” she adds, “I can see
the song of the wind
played by the trees, but you,
you see only the blankness
of the unadorned walls.”

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