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.