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.

REAL TIME

Reality is clearly something to be avoided
to be dressed up in tattery, tied in ribbons,
perfumed, yet its fetid stench
is always lurking in the background
waiting to pierce your nostrils
in an incautious moment until you retch
and bring up the bile that marks
the darker moments of your life,
the kind that lingers in the throat
which no chocolate can erase.
Reality is often ugly, so we ignore it
or hide it behind masks, or offer it
willingly to others, a gift in surfeit.
It sneaks up on you, and sets its hook
periodically, and thrashes you at will,
the barb tears through new flesh,
setting itself deeper, intractable.
You and I are dying, as I write,
as you read, an ugly thought
particularly lying in bed
staring into darkness,
no motion or sound from your spouse,
mate, paramour, friend, significant other
or teddy bear, where God
is too busy to respond at the moment
and sleep is perched in the bleachers,
held back by the usher for want
of a ticket stub, content to watch
the game from afar.
I cast ink to paper, an offer of reality
as though the divorce from the words will erase
the little pains and anguishes of our
ever distancing marriage, while
holding vainly onto the warm and sweet,
the far side of the Mobius of reality
(the skunk is at once ugly and soft and caring).
We write of pain, of ugliness, of anger
at terrible lengths, or weave tapestries
of words to cover the flawed, stained walls
of our minds, like so many happy endings,
requisite in the script. Basho
knew only too well that truth of beauty
should be captured in few syllables.

First Appeared in Chaminade Literary Review, Vols. 16-17, Fall 1995.

YAKUSAN’S DISCOURSE

When the master takes his seat
what do you expect of him?
Do you watch his posture
or how his hands are set.
Do you stare at his lips
and what do you hear
when they move, but no sound
comes from his throat.
Listen carefully, for here
the dharma unfolds
like the first chrysanthemum.

A reflection on Case 79 of the Shobogenzo (Dogen’s True Dharma Eye)