July 4, 2008, 9:50 am
August 29, 2005, 3:47 pm
ELLA MAE MORSE
A few strands of blue bulbs light
the wooden stage – twelve by twelve
by three feet high, just enough space
between us & the wicked & dazed,
half-drunk, half-dead legionnaires,
run aground at low tide -- blued moonlight
filling the bottles on each table.
Piano, bass, drums -- we groove &
Ella Mae, in sweet & slow motion,
old willow curving into cold
night wind, leans into the mic & sings:
And then, once more it´s 1946:
my father rolls back the old throw rug,
puts a Capitol 78 on the Victrola;
my mother throws her apron down,
meets him halfway, & they listen
as needle meets groove, ready as
Freddie Slack plays that funky
piano intro & young Ella Mae slides &
glides into Cow-Cow Boogie;
big toes tap on back porches
in that Texas wind, hot with midnight
twang, blue-lit moon eyes, moon
Pies on formica counters in kitchens
where radios play, she moans,
Com-mi-tah i-yi-ay, com-mi-tah
yiplee-i-ay, raised on loco weed --
a swing half-breed --
up here tonight, one night only --
Ella Mae sings the blues,
three feet & a lifetime away from
my drums – our slow, sad shuffle
on this last stop before the chill sets in,
one dark and final time.
August 24, 2005, 10:47 pm
DANCING ON THE EDGE
(for Dave Liebman)
notes somersault smack
downside up rear back
let go ! let flow !
Flatbush in flames
dancing on the edge
"...because it´s what we have to do"
the secret unearthed:
A Love Supreme!
August 4, 2005, 10:25 pm
(in memory of Lee Morgan)
Out on 125th Street at dusk, his burry
sound echoes, ping-ponged
house-party strut: brassy, sassy slurs
cut down in a blaze of blind faithless-
ness, hanging forever between B flat & C.
And for an instant on that fateful
night of the cookers, no one moved
& no one knew for sure whether
it was a rim-shot exploding,
or something far worse, until Lee
Morgan toppled forward & hit
the floor with a finality louder
than a hundred gunshots ending
a hundred other lives, breathing
electricity & cordite as bullet
meets flesh, as now & then collide,
& the ultimate dues are paid.
And if we listen carefully,
we can hear our own flesh
breaking into a thousand hot notes,
as Lee Morgan blows Brownie &
Fats & Dizzy in the fourth chorus of
What Know, as Blakey explodes, rolling
thunder & lightning like a runaway freight
train rushing headlong into dark vinyl grooves,
as Jymie and Timmons dig in-
to the gospel shuffle, & Lee wails
& screams the blues for every-
one who has ever been left behind,
everyone who has ever had a score
to settle, everyone who has ever aimed
& pulled the trigger.
August 4, 2005, 10:02 pm
Blew back then alongside the Hawk for a fat minute,
though I wouldn´t dare have picked up the tenor horn
anywhere within two counties of the man. I hung with
the alto and did my best to sound like Rabbit or Buster
Smith, even though what came out seemed watered
down and gray as any rainy day.
About halfway through the gig, I´m getting tighter
with the rhythm section and Hawk is smiling some, when
all at once she floats in through the kitchen, what with
that trademark gardenia in her hair, the floor length fur
coat and those two little Fifi dogs cradled in one arm.
Her lovely brown skin shimmers in the blue light of
the bandstand as she moves toward the red satin
booth that is known to be hers alone. Hawk tips
his hat and bows in her direction, king to her Lady.
Someone asks for "Indiana," and Hawk counts off,
speed of light, rips and snorts and hoots and growls
through every city in that fair state, then points to me.
I begin with my own version of the melody, then start
playing what I´m hearing, leap-frogging the
changes, bebop and rebop and shulie-a-bop, rag mop!
People stop what they´re doing and look up, eyes wide
and mouths open, love it or hate it, I don´t know which,
but it don´t matter now, because the music keeps coming,
over, under, around, and through me and I hang on
like nobody´s business, like a tomcat in a tornado,
like the only place to go was straight up, straight out,
shooting hot blue sparks into the crowd, bearing down,
letting go as Papa Jo yells, "Go on, boy!" from his drums,
and Hawk grins big as life and says, "Yeah!"
Once I´ve had my say, I move off to the side as
Little Jazz takes over with that big, buttery trumpet,
and his own mix of raw beefsteak and black magic.
Even as Little Jazz tells his story, people in the crowd
still looking at me, some smiles and some frowns coming
my way. As I turn to go to the bar, a voice smooth as
honey in my ear says, "You like a bird, man. Flyin´ like
a yardbird on a rainy day!" I look into her soft and lovely face,
so close that I can smell that fresh cut gardenia.
"Fly! Fly!" she says before disappearing into the
"…like a yardbird on a rainy day."
copyright 2005 michael stephans
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