Sunday, August 16, 2015

REQUIEM FOR A WORKING MUSICIAN

He was a tiny footnote—one
lost horn player—just one too
many—admired but forgotten three
years after dying on stage. He played for
food, played for love. He flatted fifths
and bopped hard—eight to the six—

fell onto motel beds at six
in the morning (checkout was always one).
He played in big bands or with five
guys he didn’t like—as long as one or two
could really play. He made four
records and played on three

famous dates, but only three
reviews mentioned him. In sixty-six
he got real lucky—he opened for
Miles. Then that deep dark one
spoke and said,” Don’t play Two
Bass Hits on my bill. Only five

cats play it as good.” Only five.
Most players would take that over three
weeks at Birdland. He’d done that, too.
Downbeat spelled everything wrong, called his “six
work very hot, very saxy. One
of the few, maybe tre or four

young palyers we’d stand in line for.”
Interviewed him once. He said, “If I’ve
played real good—I ‘member one
night—hot, June night, blowing at three
a.m.—only about two chicks and six
guys left standing. Soloed for twenty-two
choruses of ‘Night in Tunisia’—other two
cats laid out—just the rhythm beating four
into eight—not one of those six
even heard it. Packed up at five.
I remember that night. Maybe three
others like it.” He didn’t say one

word more. Five old players, just two
he knew, and three ex-wives were there for
the service. One piano played him over the Styx.

Mark J. Mitchell






FUGUE: DROUGHT

Don’t move piles of pebbles.
—Sappho, Fragment 143


A mountain escaped leaving
one pure tear—
a small lake just
to tease the city.

We dream of water here
and wake up
with dust tears
coating our pure lips.

So we take turns
kissing that lake.
We may taste it but—
teased—we can’t swallow.

Someday we’ll escape dust
like the mountain and we’ll drop
real tears in to the heart
of a dry, impure city.

Mark J. Mitchell



THROUGH THE FRAME

First there’s a picture, both awkwardly hung
and poorly framed. Now reach. Don’t break the glass.
Your hands are precious as the spectral face
in front of you. Neither can be replaced
these days. Your arms sport gooseflesh. It won’t last.
Now stroke the flesh awake. It’s firm, soft, young.
It was never that young before this frame
enclosed it. Now remember all you’ve done
to her. Good. Now watch your slow breath erase
the image and your sins. You may trace
that smile with a damp finger one last time.
Don’t speak. They don’t use words here. This is mime,
not drama. You only dream you feel her lace
collar, her loose hair. You wake in framed space.

Mark J. Mitchell








FLASHBACK

The rain gleams and is gone.

I can make nothing of the lion
but a small shape scraped in bone.

The plague arrives
knocking on my forehead.
The door yawns.



Mark J. Mitchell







CONVENTIONAL REPUBLICAN SONNET

I guard a door and consider the Grachii,
sorting reformers from programmers—none
may pass without electric blessing. Some
try. Most fail. Weary vigilance is my
lonely duty: I must hold these gates firm
against some temporary citizens,
make a holy space for denizens
of this digital republic. I turn
back all who speak my tongue. Where is the land
that troops are owed? Will our crops grow themselves?
Only coffee is sold within these walls.
The masters of technique, their soft white hands
unused to plows, must still be fed. Their cell
phone guide them. They’ve made an app for the fall.

Mark J. Mitchell




TIMELY

The stars are a memory system.
—Diane di Prima
Notes on the Art of Memory


Today the calendar
counts only days.

It pretends to map stars
but can’t chase their memories.

Pages are empty of festivals.
Mysteries are no longer hidden.

They are missing.
The sky is almost empty.

Tonight’s the moon’s covert smile
sports one star—like a tear.
Mark J. Mitchell