Jazz Riffs

from Storyville's scented vines
    the Civil War's cast-off brass
    the funeral march's staggering wail
from the waifs' home and the tenement
    Cuba and Africa
    New Orleans, Kansas City, the Savoy, Minton's, 52nd Street
from American noise and individualism and borrowing
it comes

lingering past the beat
- holding on then
squeezing time -
off-kilter, irregular
rhythm rocking

wavering between major and minor
dismissing duality
embracing blue notes/flatted fifths, 
the potential in the cracks between the keys

where what goes unplayed
the space and spareness allowed
is as vital as sound

where individual and collective 
must look each other in the eye
assert and accommodate,

where you find freedom despite would-be limitations:
    Chick Webb's spine
    Django's burned hand
    Lady Day's tiny range
    Bird's appetites
    Miles's wealth
    Bechet's fury
    segregation diminishing everyone's world

you listen with new intensity
immersed in oral tradition's demands
play for your life
risk everything

Ornette's whole band improvised for two days straight;
Bernstein pressed his ear to the bass's F-hole to get still closer;
Bix never repeated a solo, reasoned, "I don't feel the same way twice" 

underneath it all, the wistful confession
unspeakable loneliness, baseless hope, and
irresistible swing