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Text Message on the Way Home from Carole’s Nonstop Bar


I like seeing me like this, lingering

after-hours, bone-player un-extraordinaire,

boot-strapped into a facsimile of an early life,

only with less hair. I weave in and out

of the center lane in a movie

I was made for, factory lights blinking

in the beleaguered distance, one more last

song of the night drifting with the thinning traffic.

And when the song comes, nobody’s ready for it,

the bridge drops out and our chanteuse

is fixing her gorgeous hair. As I drive

she sings and the band rouses up for a last

cacophonous chorus. A tanker truck floats by,

and in the moment between one diminished

chord and the next, I’m stuck on a memory

of the first time I heard the trombone

at a party where I also had my first drink —

a moment I’m proud of considering circumstances.

With a guy named Wiley’s help, I held the horn --

it would be too large to hold myself for another

five years, and even now, that brass coil,

its pure, smooth tubing, feels big and unwieldy —

and put my lips inside the mouthpiece and

blew: with just a try I produced a low

trombone growl and moved the slide far

as I could with my short arms. The trombone sneered --

I felt a mixture of terror and delight, and knew

with frightening clarity what the rest of my life

would be like, that my other loves would be

fly-by-night affairs. Driving north now

on I- 95, I review my mileage, the bars

I’ve been thrown out of, the tempo; time-

signatures of tunes that tell me how to get

here from there. There’s lots of tunes

about driving drunk, and a few about

stone-cold sobriety where I find myself now,

hands annealed to the wheel, a Low Country moon

pasted on an indigo sky. Does it get better than that?

B-flat’s the key for beginners, D-flat for cats

speeding on jazz’s corpse-strewn highway.

Tonight, at Carole’s I got my sharps and flats

confused. I was full of the dickens,

doing Giant Steps changes in reverse mode

on the trombone — pure delight, that's what

my horn gave me. Then silence filled the bar,

a dismal silence I mistook for applause,

and I was flung back into a dream

of one of those old places you can’t

replicate with modern technology:

overhead-fans twirling, white and black

tricked out in white cotton dresses at the bar.

That memory’s scorched into the notes

I wanted to play and dialed out of mind

by random audio detritus

on I-95. Something’s on the blink.

But if I listen hard enough, I hear us

in a nowhere between two worlds.

Dear Heart, if you are receiving his text message,

it is sent out of respect and in gratitude

for the help that you have given to me.

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