What did I think, a storm clutching a clarinet
and boarding a downtown bus, headed for lessons?
I had pieces to learn by heart, but at twelve
you think the heart and memory are different.
“‘It’s a poor sort of memory that only works
backwards,’ the Queen remarked.” Alice in Wonderland.
Although I knew the way music can fill a room,
even with loneliness, which is of course a kind
of company. I could swelter through an August
afternoon — torpor rising from the river — and listen
to Stan Getz and J. J. Johnson braid variations
on “My Funny Valentine” and feel there in the room
with me the force and weight of what I couldn’t
say. What’s an emotion anyhow?
Lassitude and sweat lay all about me
like a stubble field, it was so hot and listless,
but I was quick and furtive as a fox
who has his thirty-miles-a-day metabolism
to burn off as ordinary business.
I had about me, after all, the bare eloquence
of the becalmed, the plain speech of the leafless
tree. I had the cunning of my body and a few
bars — they were enough — of music. Looking back,
it almost seems as though I could remember —
but this can’t be; how could I bear it? —
the future toward which I’d clatter
with that boy tied like a bell around my throat,
a brave man and a coward both,
to break and break my metronomic heart
and just enough to learn to love the blues.