Birds of Dawn

Summer finally vanquished
cool breeze of fall
through the bedroom window
a bit chilly
all night
under warm weather sheets.

As the black lightens
into gray,
two distinct chirps
awake me,
sharing news
of the coming sun.

The short cheerful rhythms
help disperse
the darkness
along with my fading slumber.

“It’s a new day,”
they seem to celebrate
and I agree,
though eyes shut again
and breathing slows.

A Play for Rob and Larry

Scene – After clearing spider webs away, a Human is sitting on a dock looking over a suburban lake, drone of Interstate traffic too far away to intrude. Warmth of the summer’s day is gradually dispersed by a Northerly breeze.
Backstory – Two men I have made music with have, or are about to, breathe their last on this plane and no poem or postcard can reach them in their new state.

Act (the only and only)
A gentle but insistent wind blows right to left – towards True North.

[Wind] As you cannot see me but only feel my effects, so are you to your departing brothers.

[Silent pause to show blowing of leaves and perhaps a scarf]

[Lake] Wind, you may ripple my surface, but my secrets have settled to safety in my mud. Many bodies slumber here – turtle, snake, fish, clams and the cremated remains of human friends who have gone on.

[Wind] Only gravity grants you your existence, whereas I am impelled by heat and cold, making currents out of nothing.

[Lake] Ah, as do my currents, but in a slower rhythm within my fluid medium.

[Human, rising to stand] As above, so below.

[Wind increases and ripples march faster across the water]

[Human] Both Wind and Lake are welcome here, and both remind me of just how fleeting this life can be. My fellow travelers once could feel your caresses on their skin, and could sing your praises in their own unique ways. Now, released from their fleshy form, they can caress us as wind, as water, as Spirit, in any moment when we care enough to tune in.

[Offstage, toning begins, imperceptible at first, gets louder as Human looks around for its source.]

[Human, confused at first, looks around for an explanation, something rational. Instead falls into acceptance of the tonal mystery, and, with a contented expression, crouches, perhaps even kneels, on the dock. Then begins to join in the toning, “Om.”]

The volume of the toning gradually gets louder. Human stands, arms slowly rising towards Heaven. Light slowly increases in intensity until the brightness dissolves everything into Oneness. At the peak of brightness, the toning stops, with its echoes reverberating for an extended fade out.
No curtain needed.

Sing On

Sitting alone
in Preservation Hall
such an unexpected gift.
Echoes of jazz men past,
and women like Sweet Emma,
over 50 years of sweat and swing
too many artists to name
and the walls untouched,
an unscrubbed shrine –
stained pegboard,
cracked floor boards,
old tour posters,
original paintings,
the big bass drum
illuminated from within,
as I am,
with letters of soulful legacy
ready to come to life
at a master’s touch.

My reed is wet
with my inner tears
humbled by this moment
before the audience enters
and tonight’s band
takes them
to places
many of them have never been.
A time before rock
and bop
and country
and way before the internet and
television’s hot media
escalated our expectations.

When Jazz was young
this town
was the catalyst
the secret spice
in the gumbo
that made the senses
with awe.
How did this
rhythmic concoction
come to life,
dancing the generations,
and me not notice?

Yet now I sit
in rapt attention
in an empty room
which exists for one purpose only
to preserve the early jazz
born in this city
when 4 string banjo
and clarinet
were essential
and even violin
was still welcome in the band.

My reed
is now dripping wet
and the horn comes
to my lips
with an impossible mission.
How do I even dare
to attempt to play
amongst these echoes,
now fixed in my head?
the urge comes
from deep within
and only I
can play jazz in my own way.

Practice I must.
To woodshed
is to enjoy the heat twice
in private
and on the stage.
This improv is mine,
really it is me,
suddenly encased in tone
and time
and licks
and even I will reverberate
between these hallowed walls.

My heart,
my soul,
my longing.
Whatever gift
I can honestly offer,
even if my inner critic
erases it all –
this is my expression
in this moment.
And it is true.

a20This poem has helped me digest two events on August 1. In the afternoon, the New Orleans Traditional Jazz Camp took over Preservation Hall, and all the student ensembles got to perform. My group was the first after the break, so I got to sit in one of those old fashioned oak chairs and look out, soaking in the history of that place, knowing that my clarinet was soon going to fill that room. And after dinner, I came back to hear the Preservation Hall Brass Band, and paid extra for a VIP ticket. I was the only taker – the best $30 I have spent in a long time! And I sat alone in there letting the echoes of past jazz players just wash over me.