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