Reading by the author

I. likely not unlike the bohemian blue

Coltrane woke to ages later,
this blue cut the blank raw cold.
bald stones sloped and peaked.
a stout, deciduous fringe rimmed the sky.
night-slick grass silvered discretely, breathing
or seeming to breathe.

a crude, fluid blue.
paled like dye, exposed
the riotous foxglove
and the flushed bleeding-heart.
bees lapped the phlox
and the purple-pleated
oxalis itched, watching.

like eyes, someone thought,
turning revolutions in the grass.
buzzed on fieldwings, ochre-stroked,
arrested by the signifying wind,
some forebear rode the current up:
hissed and whined and shouted violet.
their lungs were vast and private.
let me flute this hollow bone,
they thought. let me split this ivory,
what with ten bright fingers and this appetite.

II. Except for ours, with its coiled heat and water stains,

these homes are razed or newly raised in royals, beiges,
pepper-reds and stripes. It’s Tuesday and we’re brazen
for the spread. We climb our street in headphones,
raising horns. We lurch and honk, bounce and reel,
bank the creamsick clouds and bear their light.

Bone-deep, the beat is bread.
The first disruption thrills like drifting
off a curb. Again, we say. Skip the beat
but keep its track. Our body will trace it.
We’ve made this bass our backbone.
We’ve trained our wrist on snare and cymbal.
Entranced, our hips and toes admit the stakes.

But the sax, loose bull, bucks code.
We surge out the gate, bent on wrangling sense
from dumb air. That we wobble should inspirit us,
who can, in turn, weather thrum and thrust,
who, too, have driven chaos into a motif.

Daily we shed rituals and props.
Finding the essential runs, we’re keeping
a fitful tempo and losing everything else.
Our neighborhood’s in flux. It flexes us.

Daily the hydraulic quartet fells an old frame:
bulldozer, earth mover, visionary crane,
one that blows and blows and doesn’t stop.

III. How was it to live

                               in that year?


Everything was tender

                               Everything was coming to a head.

                               People looked ambiguous.
                               Their eyes worked hard.

                               There were yard signs.
                               A couple tried to fix their car, fed up.

                               Things were brass, brittle, bold, bat-blind, bellicose, abiding
or betwixt,
                               often all at once.

                               Leaves got wise and curled,
rehearsing the sun.

                               The twists we never guessed
                               pitched a wreck and a relation:
                               the sure rhythm failed, joining sharp sets of time.
                               We played the frenetic constituents of a glacial synthesis.
                               We played the careful tenants on a hairpin road.
                               We sensed still things moving:
                               not in plain sight, but on the fringes.

Poet's Note

Here I have tried to please my ear. In this season of losing givens, I’m interested in digging into what’s essential. What endures? At the beginning of this century archaeologists found a vulture’s radius bone in the German Alps—five holes cut down its length. Forty thousand years after our ancestors invented tools to manipulate breath, John Coltrane and five others recorded Impressions at the Village Vanguard, bending sound to the same end: to satisfy themselves. To manifest sensorily ideas that have driven us across ages: beauty, form, balance, the body’s relationship to time. This poem is about the creative impulse. It’s about this mysterious instrumental thing in the skull: these few cubic centimetres where information is analyzed and steeped and translated, ultimately—sometimes glacially—into expression. While pillars erode, the beat abides. It provides a reliable foundation so the soloist can imagine, experiment, expand boundaries. The bass and drums spur us forward; the sax drives us up. As rhythms become more complex, a structure seems to unravel; our violated expectations make us attentive. We’ve got one good motif we may return to, and in the precious plastic meantime we will—as we always have, because we must—wobble uncertainly toward new forms.