Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Something jazzy

Thought it might be good to put up some poetry again.

This one is by Marilyn Hacker. At first reading her I was a little put-off, mainly because some of the cultural/geographical references she throws in came off as name-dropping to me. But I'm warming to her, and this one is sweet.


Alto Solo
Dear one, it's a while since you turned the lights out
on the porch: a decade of private summers
passed and cast shed leaves on whatever river
carried our letters.

Merely out of habit, I sometimes tell you
when I've learned a word, made a friend, discovered
some small park where old men debate the headlines,
heard some good music

—it's like jazz, which, even at its most abstract
has the blues in it, has that long saudade
like a memory of what didn't happen
someplace that might be

inlaid with mosaics of recollection
which, in fact's a sreet corner of the utmost
ordinariness, though the late light steeps it
in such nostalgia

I can hear a saxophone in the background
wail an elegy for the revolution
as someone diminishes the distance
and the film's over.

Now you know there won't be another love scene.
Do those shadows presage undereamt-of war years?
Twenty, thirty pass, and there's still a sound track
behind the credits:

Cecil Taylor's complex riffs on the keyboard
which a prep-school blonde, seventeen, named Julie
sneaked me into the Blue Note for, because she
knew how to listen—

or it could be Janis packing the Fillmore
West with heartbreak, when I knew that I'd see her
playing pool again at Gino and Carlo's
some weekday midnight.

This is not about you at all: you could be
anybody who died too young, whoo went to
live in São Paulo or back to Warsaw
or just stopped calling.

(Why did Alice Coltrane stop cutting records?
—think of Pharaoh Sanders being your sideman!—
Lapidary grief: was its consolation
all stone, all silence?)

Now it's morning, gray, and at last a storm came
after midnight, breaking the week-long dog days.
Though I woke at three with a splitting headache,
I lay and listened

to the rain, forgave myself some omissions
as the rain forgave and erased some squalor
It was still too early for trucks and hoses.
A thud of papers

dropped outside the news agent's metal shutters.
Am I glad we didn't last out the winter?
You, the street I made believe that I lived on
have a new address.

Who I miss: the girl of a long-gone season
like my sturdy six-year-old in her OshKosh
overalls, attaining the age of reason
and senior Lego.

You've become—and I never would have wished it—
something like a metaphor of the passage
(time, a cobbled alley between two streets whcih
diverge, a tune that

reemerges out of the permutations
rung on it by saxophone, bass and piano,
then takes one more plunge so its resolution's
all transformation).

Someone's always walking away; the music
changes key, the moving men pack the boxes.
There the river goes with its bundled cargo:
unanswered letters.

3 comments:

susan said...

I read this earlier today and again this evening. You're right, it is very sweet. I know that picking a line of poetry is as unfair to the poem as focusing on one element of a painting but I think the third verse points to the central point she's making. I'd never heard the word 'saudade' so looked it up to discover it's Portuguese for 'yearning'. That seemed quite fitting.

wwwlists said...


He will have to learn, I know,
that all men are not just,
all men are not true.
But teach him also that
for every scoundrel there is a hero;
that for every selfish Politician,
there is a dedicated leader…

Ben said...

Even with a painting, you can start with a detail and then work your way out.

I think you're right about the third stanza being key. Saudade is a word I didn't know either. According to Wikipedia, "It often carries a repressed knowledge that the object of longing might never return." That's a powerful kind of melancholy.