My History of Jazz
Time spirals backward
in 8-bar phrases
choruses of infinity
people, faces, rhythms
I see Arthur Trappier
crackling out the time
and Art Blakey's
when he heard me say “Trappier"
in a whisper
Because there was Zutty
and Big Sid
and Elvin carrying his traps
and Oscar's favorite drummer
limping behind the beat, lapped by generations.
I see the attics of my youth
of suburban silence like
back in Chicago.
I see Elliot Bridgman hovering
over his tom-toms,
his gin tucked like a cathode tube
in the guts of the Atwater Kent
when the gig took us to the Town
he had to sit it out.
How much it must have hurt.
Then, pre-dawn blues,
not a word among us. Just brushes, stiff cymbal swish
behind the horns. Al, Paul, George,
Bob, Jim, and God knows who else came in on the beat
silent except for the music we made.
Who was that quiet red-headed guitarist
who got so pissed that day we left him behind
for a job? He cursed himself sick at us
then blew some tune we all comped.
Krupa, big Dave McKenna,
Percy Heath mellow with us
and Bags and John and Connie Kay, my man.
I can still see Miles and his tight pants,
Maynard's arm hanging out of the family station wagon,
the fight in the toilet at the Five-Spot over dope,
some long, dark moments in the Village.
And back to Arthur Trappier down on 29th street
Where they wouldn't let me in without my folks
and my folks, wary of what this thing was.
Trappier traded with George Wettling
back in that spiral of time,
the two so deft,
Arthur such a flash
George reading Daily Worker on his floor-tom.
I drank ginger ale through my lips
and champagne through my ears.
Jimmy McPartland was a kid
White Joe Sullivan was red with booze
and Black Joe Sullivan made everything sing.
Pee Wee Russell and Jack Teagarden spoke to the masses
and I read the pain of Beiderbecke
in every note.
Saw Arvell Shaw
standing in the audience at the Metropole
attending Louis Armstrong
with a look I now realize was longing.
Then I see that spiral on Garden Street
at the storefront center. Kevin and I two bleached
faces on a hot night in Hartford.
Black Smitty let us sit in,
while the dispossessed drummer glared at me.
We played B-flat blues and the place sang
every beat moving down like predestination
When I saw the folks pour in
black and white faces,
my Milton students staring at me.
They knew Milton was a keyboard man.
They should have known
it was just me: riding home on some beautiful changes
in an 8-bar flush with choruses of ecstasy
Eyes blind to everything but the spiraling notes,
like the angel looking homeward
melting into the time.
In a Boneyard in Galway
In a boneyard in Galway
I stepped into an open grave
the grass above my head,
invisible, a vacancy waiting
It was my fall from grace,
a shock as I penetrated the
I never felt so Irish
as at that moment looking up
at the cloudless sky,
a pallid window.
up the crumbling sides
though I was its only tenant.
Elsewhere the stones canted
with bleak messages. Culann age 6,
Aoife 44, Emer 63, never forgotten,
always remembered, but completely abandoned.
Plastic weathered toys
stood in for griefs that once bit
like January winds from the sea.
In the nearby ruin of a stone chapel
rainwater stood in the stoup. A blessing
Within, a flowered brassiere lay
draped in the grass, girlish, cheerful,
tossed off like the hatch of an egg.
I placed it in the beautifully dressed
arched window looking out toward the sea,
hanging there, a flag for the living.
Freud Knew One Truth
Freud knew one truth
of frightening proportions.
The earth that is deep in our
molecules, he told us,
desires our return. Now.
Looking downward, toward gravity,
may be our fate,
but the desire to achieve it now confounded him.
Why repeat the past before its time?
What we were is surely less
than what we will become.
Even Freud must have hoped
as much when he labored over
becomes itself again
not just to this time and this place
but to all time and all places.
What can we but plant
our fingers in the earth and pray
for dependable seasons of return
in due time.
A wintry optimism.
The first commandment:
Rake them not in a windstorm.
The second commandment:
Curse them not for being themselves.
The third commandment:
Complain not when their colors disappoint.
The fourth commandment:
Bed them not promiscuously in your garden.
The fifth commandment:
Praise not yourself for admiring their attire.
The sixth commandment:
Take no pride in the reluctance of oaks to let go.
The seventh commandment:
Touch not the match to the most brilliant pile.
The eighth commandment:
Trust not the breeze to visit them to a neighbor.
The ninth commandment:
Leap not into their midst.
The tenth commandment:
Worship not their metaphor of fire
Nor their metaphor of death.
Charles next door, a six year old,
crouching low in palsied caricature,
showed me how my mother walked
when she struck her cane
on the bluestone path.
Where she was heading was
the same path today.
His callow heart
beats a rhythm of indifference.
What he knows about death
is that the woman he saw
huddled over her cane is gone.
There are no smiles from
his gray-haired neighbor, no treats
on Halloween, no one getting the mail,
and no mail at all.
Death is the absence of a soul
whose body bends forward
in anticipation, and whose path
leads where all paths go.
Let me see the boy mimic that.
Tell me the meaning of firmament, the significance of grief's
beginnings, there in the bud of the herb, the light on the earth,
the dry land meeting the salt, the salt giving way to the ice,
the ice shoaling down to the warm waters of generation
and melting snows, the whales sounding the depths.
What lights press them
downward to their temple of revelation?
What chains of delivery hang from the beams above their heads?
And how can I know the beginning of things
when what seems simple is masked by the darkness of generation,
the bud of the herb, standing firm and waiting for the signal,
shunning the worm, touching the light
in hopefulness. What I see here
hoping for insight may be good. I see the land and the sea,
I see the clouds and the sky and sometimes feel the rain and wind,
but nothing there reassures my spirit. The world is cold, silent,
The sun dips and spills warmth, the essence of hope.
Bud of the herb, I think. Such a simple beginning. The grasses
are coarse with generation, seeds stand attentively
hoping to spread into the fields. Creeping things have life.
Afterwards, God spoke not in words, bringing
the waters to the land, the cattle to the field,
the eagle to the skies. God spoke, but not in words,
to the sun and the moon, urged, but not in words,
the seas in their abundance to spill forth, and the seas,
though not in words, spilled forth.
Afterwards, God spoke to the trees and spawned
their leaves, but not in words. Not in so many words.
God spoke to the evening and the morning, and spawned the days
that reach back to the dawning
of that day which was not a day,
that dawnless day which was the spawning of these days and years
etched in varieties of grief, tempered with prayers and fears.
We somehow rule the herb of the field, the beasts
moving over the ground plunging in the black depths
stirring in the waters of night. Every green herb. Rosemary is for grief.
Such beginnings include envy. Such beginnings include death.
When God Mooned Moses
When God Mooned Moses
clouds scudded by
the luminous vision
almost dazzled him,
but he held firm
on his hill
the crowd below
lingered near their gold
travelers, all, they sat
ripening forth with
advice and direction
unaware that the moon
like a projection of human
hindquarters but with much
greater irony and scorn
knowing they would somehow
reach Canaan with a new name
for God, and leave behind
whose revenge was
to write it all down