Convergences? “Words and Music.”
By Robert Pinsky*
A monosyllabic European called Sax
Invents a horn, walla whirledy wah, a kind of twisted
Brazen clarinet, but with its column of vibrating
Air shaped not in a cylinder but in a cone
Widening ever outward and bawaah spouting
Infinitely upward through an upturned
Swollen golden bell rimmed
Like a gloxinia flowering
In Sax's Belgian imagination
And in the unfathomable matrix
Of mothers and fathers as a genius graven
Humming into the cells of the body
Or cupped in the resonating grail
Of memory changed and exchanged
As in the trading of brasses,
Pearls and ivory, calicos and slaves,
Laborers and girls, two
Cousins in a royal family
Of Niger known as the Birds or Hawks.
In Christendom one cousin's child
Becomes a "favorite negro" ennobled
By decree of the Czar and founds
A great family, a line of generals,
Dandies and courtiers including the poet
Pushkin, killed in a duel concerning
His wife's honor, while the other cousin sails
In the belly of a slaveship to the port
Of Baltimore where she is raped
And dies in childbirth, but the infant
Will marry a Seminole and in the next
Chorus of time their child fathers
A great Hawk or Bird, with many followers
Among them this great-grandchild of the Jewish
Manager of a Pushkin estate, blowing
His American breath out into the wiggly
Tune uncurling its triplets and sixteenths--the Ginza
Samba of breath and brass, the reed
Vibrating as a valve, the aether, the unimaginable
Wires and circuits of an ingenious box
Here in my room in this house built
A hundred years ago while I was elsewhere:
It is like falling in love, the atavistic
Imperative of some one
Voice or face--the skill, the copper filament,
The golden bellful of notes twirling through
Their invisible element from
Rio to Tokyo and back again gathering
Speed in the variations as they tunnel
The twin haunted labyrinths of stirrup
And anvil echoing here in the hearkening
Instrument of my skull.
By Charles Simic **
Monk at the Five Spot
late one night.
"Ruby my Dear," "Epistrophy."
The place nearly empty
Because of the cold spell.
One beautiful black transvestite
alone up front,
Sipping his drink demurely.
The music Pythagorean,
one note at a time.
Connecting the heavenly spheres.
While I leaned against the bar
surveying the premises
Through cigarette smoke.
All of a sudden, a clear sense
of a memorable occasion...
The joy of it, the delicious melancholy...
This very strange man bent over the piano
shaking his head, humming...
Then it was all over, thank you!
Chairs being stacked on tables,
their legs up.
The prospect of the freeze outside,
Making one procrastinatory.
Who said Americans don't have history,
only endless nostalgia?
And where the hell was Nellie?
* From: Robert Pinsky. The Figured Wheel: New & Collected Poems, 1966-1991. Noonday, 1996. page 5.
** From: Chales Simic. The Book of Gods and Devils. Harvest/Harcourt, 1990.