300 times on the cushion
or the couch or the bed
or the seiza bench.
300 trips into the carwash
of my brain, brushes
spraying this way and that.
300 dances with the monkey,
banging on the typewriter keys
with no paper in the machine.
Light the incense, light the candle,
sit, breathe, rinse, repeat.
Three bells to start, three bells
to finish. I guess that’s
eighteen hundred bells.
Seems like a lot.
There’s a red-tailed hawk on the wires above the Monro Muffler. Or maybe it’s a falcon. I don’t know for sure. I like to think I can identify more birds than I can. Like most people here in the land of asphalt and promises, I know more corporate logos than I do birds or trees. Show me the Golden Arches or the Swoosh and I’m your man. Ask me to identify the leaves that gather like asylum seekers against our door and I’ll have to admit I know as little about them as I do the people I used in this metaphor. I believe in building small communities, but I don’t even know the names of most of my neighbors. I’ve hugged the guy who brings our Chinese food but his name escapes me. Same for all those dear friends I had on Facebook. Now I see them on the street and they’re like pop songs whose lyrics I never quite understood. Hum a few bars, but quietly. The hawk is skittish.
The new old Mingus was recorded
seven months before my own debut;
thirty-plus years before I made it to Detroit,
where Charles and Roy and Joe and
John and Don were still figuring out
the steps, some of them having only
recently been invited to dance.
There is space for all of us in music.
The misfits and the fits, if those
even exist. I’m skeptical myself.
But anyway there is room enough
at this kitchen party for you
and everyone you’ve ever known.
Hang up your coat and grab a drink.
I was a kid the first time I saw men play jazz.
My grandpa took me to hear Pete Fountain
and Al Hirt someplace. Rochester maybe. He knew
them from Lawrence Welk. At least that’s where he
learned about Pete. Toupee like a dare, clarinet
dancing like a baton as he made the uncool
cool. Saved my adolescence.
OK not actually. It still wasn’t cool to play jazz
in the eighties. Not as a nerdy white kid
in an all-white town forty-five minutes
from the birthplace of Chuck Mangione.
I did get a lot of hall passes from
the band teacher, and that was something.
Better than class. Way better than gym.
I like to picture Mingus sneaking out
of the locker room before his gym teacher
can line him up for dodgeball. Mingus who
might have flashed a blade at Duke. Mingus
who told racists in no uncertain terms
to fuck right off. Did he have to run laps,
gasping in the morning cold?
in the hours after midnight
is not that you will always be there
but that you’re there now.
I don’t believe in forever.
I think I did as a child, kneeling
at the altar rail, feeling the slight
pressure of a hand on the back
of my head as I spoke the lines of
the confirmation prayer. That pressure
is gone now, as is the belief that led
me to my knees then and so many times
before. I am not without conviction
in my middle years; nor am I without
faith of a sort. If I reach out my hand
just a few inches I’ll feel your skin
warm and soft under the electric
blanket. I do that from time to time,
reminding myself to take nothing
for granted. I still fall to my knees
to worship, too, though I give tongue
to different prayers. Both of us
together, one body. Amen.
Just now while
I was meditating
I saw you (not
really but you know)
outside the cart return
at Wegmans, dark green
over a black tee shirt)
flapping in a cold wind.
I asked are you happy,
you said I am are you,
yes I said and we hugged.
Then the wind blew the cart,
I turned around to grab it,
when I looked again
you were gone.