dangers of kindness

 

burdened with bags I squeeze

onto the crowded trolley.

 

young guy, ears plugged by buds,

asks, “sir, would you like this seat?”

 

i refuse his offer but

thank him for his kindness.

 

trolley lurches as I grip

the chrome bar.

 

lurch and stop and lurch again.

should have accepted the offer

 

from this handsome surfer,

gracious and young

 

but i fight the urge to

whack him in the face.

 

we all end up somewhere…

 

snugged into a coffin

or stuffed in a wall

 

or flung into the air

or left in a vase

 

on someone’s

grim hearth

 

…or in the hall closet

where we discovered dad

 

who mom had zipped up

in a bowling ball bag

 

yet no matter, brother,

that you offed yourself

 

the family will

dutifully flock

 

to a place

suitably inspirational

 

where we will

share our love for you

 

in words that

catch brief light

 

as they rise

and then fall

 

 

 

the first week of december…

 

and we have no card from you

of course you are dead of course

 

yours, brother, was suicide

but the loneliness…

 

yours always

the first card received

 

covered with

renaissance angels

 

or mary,

before the horror,

 

serene in

luminous blue

 

showing your love

of art your spiritual

 

yearning

then your

 

personal note

printed in

 

perfect script

as if wrist control

 

would take you

to grace

 

respite

canada geese

march with dignity.

elegant heads move

above elegant necks.

but one

lurches behind —

leg bent at

pain-ful an-gle.

suddenly all geese

stretch high

on webbed feet

thrusting chests

unfolding wings

creating a

honking

cacophony,

when our

crippled goose

lifts himself

soaring

over the still-

grounded

gaggle.

Jazz Transformation

My History with Kind of Blue

The album Kind of Blue, recorded March and April 1959 in New York City, is regarded as one of the finest jazz albums, ever. I first heard it in 1960, when I was fifteen. Each of the cuts was outstanding, but my favorite was “So What.” Like most teens, I certainly listened to pop songs of the time, but jazz had a much stronger hold on me. Being a reader of the newspaper I delivered each morning, I knew that jazz was being created against the background of the civil rights movement: Rosa Parks’ bus ride, the sit-ins, the riots in Birmingham were soon to come.

Miles Davis and the men he chose for this recording would become legends: Julian (Cannonball) Adderly, alto sax; John Coltrane, tenor sax; Wynton Kelly, piano (on one track); Bill Evans, piano (on the rest of the tracks); Paul Chambers, bass; and James Cobb on drums. 

In the  album’s liner notes, Bill Evans writes about how improvising jazz musicians had much in common with “… a Japanese visual art in which the artist is forced to be spontaneous. He must paint on a thin parchment with a special brush and black water paint in such a way that an unnatural or interrupted stroke will destroy the line or break through the parchment. Erasures or changes are impossible.” Evans then describes how Miles conceived for the recording dates “frameworks which are exquisite in their simplicity and yet contain all that is necessary…The group had never played these pieces prior to the recordings and I think without exceptions the first complete performance of each was a ‘take’ …” 

This extraordinary group of jazz musicians (African-Americans with the exception of Bill Evans) created beauty from the blues — certainly the case in the song “So What,” and that was an especially powerful experience for me at a difficult time of my life.

(Please open the audio file at the end of the poem to hear “jazz transformation” read aloud or try this link <wordsandfeathers.com> which will have this audio file along with audio files from some excellent poets.) Poetry is meant to be read aloud!)

 

jazz transformation

 

when miles’ trumpet asks

“so what?” it talks

to my blue soul.

 

when i first hear the song,

mom has just appointed me,

at fifteen,“new man of the family”

because sad man dad

has gone into out-of-job

hit-and-run drunkenness.

so in the “so” of the “so what?”

mom’s been driving

me in the car

to fetch him in bars

sitting in darkness.

 

“so what?”

miles takes that refrain,

shares the pain of jazz geniuses

hated for their blackness—

through crisp chords mixed

with rhythm that swings

into a cool guy’s

beautiful easy walk

seemingly just for me,

allowing this white kid

to say “so what?” as i stride

through my blue world.

 

fathers retreating

dad home from work

dark brown easy chair.

on black and white tv

boxers punching.

 

i kiss his rough cheek

say good night.

but dad says at twelve

i am too old for that.

 

for years felt

the hole in my gut

the humiliation for those

expressions of love.

 

forgot that grandfather

abandoned his thirteen kids

when dad was twelve

during the great depression.

 

dad quit school

worked to feed the family

searched his whole life

for a father

 

l’envoi

 

it’s too late to say,

my late father, 

but i love you for giving 

what love you could

 

an honest life

 

oregonafternon - 1.jpg

 

an honest life

i hike east along the Rogue

he heads west

looking too old for the cooler

strapped to his back.

his dun-colored dog drags

the twine rope tied to its collar.

i step aside and say “you look

ready to catch some salmon.”

“ain’t goin’ to wet a line for four days”

gap-toothed smile and hustling still.

i nod and then see them bump up

a steep section of trail,

his jeans with a hole in the butt

him and his dog

to camp along the wild river

in the deep Oregon night.