satchmo in albany, 1956

 

He is in his rooms in the Kenmore Hotel,

Once-gracious lady favored by the ancient city’s elite,

Now tired old harlot patching and spackling with powders and rouges

In a vain attempt to camouflage the slide toward oblivion,

Only fit for unwitting out-of-towners

And those with short-term business transactions to ply

(He stays there out of nostalgia, perhaps,

Or possibly because they’d let him through the door without question

Back in those days when that was far from a given,

Or maybe because it was the trumpet players’ place,

The story being that Bunny Berigan had once left a horn

As payment for an outlandish and fabulously overdue bar tab.)

He is holding court with a local features writer,

Another interview in another town,

(Ostensibly a one-on-one sit-down,

But his suite more like Sears the weekend before Christmas:

Band members doing walk-through warm ups,

Friends old and new darting in and out,

Lucille frantically mother-henning the whole process)

Juggling many hats as he speaks,

Part-time salesman for semi-herbal quasi-diet aids,

Mirthful mangler of malapropos,

All rolling forth with with an air of street-level entrepreneurship,

But there is a more stolid, settled quality about him now,

The assumption of the mantle of icon

(Bestowed upon him by a continent

Far from his birth, but still)

And the time comes for him to begin the warm-up,

Starting with a high note here, a low note there,

Until he finds one note, that note,

A thing not constrained by lead sheets, acoustics,

Indeed any human construct at all.

On the street outside, two young men,

All stingy brimmed hats, narrow ties,

And not-quite top-line silk mohair suits

(Flipped in and out of the pawn shop

Any number of times, but still)

Shoes shined to a military gleam,

Walking with a gait which implies

That they are hustlers, yes,

But men of substance, nonetheless.

One of them hears the note,

And wonders aloud, Man, who’s got a horn like that

Around this neighborhood?

(Neither of them deign to look up toward the hotel,

As, for them, threat and opportunity

Is something that exists strictly at street-level)

But his partner grunts dismissively,

Never even breaking stride,

Man, just some old damn fool

Playin’ some old tom’s records.

 

 

 

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