Sonny Stitt; New York, c. 1976
Through your horn’s dark pieties,
the glamor of its golden mouth, a youth
lost to the call and response of too many needle-nights,
too many dumps, too many dives,
you play a mudwater music, slow-flowing under an old iron bridge,
so sad, so far gone, it wings away never to come back.
It’s how you play.
That giving away of everything.
Your hands, your shoes, your sorrows, your soul.
Never once thinking you’d need them again
as a light or a beacon to find your way home.
Playing so sweet they nicknamed you Baby Bird.
Gave you that heavy heavy crown.
But now your pockets hang turned-out empty,
lolling like fat white tongues with nothing left to say
and there are red stains on your shirt.
Lipstick or blood?
I’m too far away to tell.
But there they are. A part of you.
Tattoo reminders of tonight
when you played,
and heaven kissed earth
while you gave yourself
like a tarnished Jesus.
Like what we were asking for
was another pierced side.
Another crown of thorns.
Another cross to carry.
Lay them all down.
Your busted bones, your heart.
your horn, your heavy angry Jones.
You’ve carried them long enough,
its morning, and the sky already hangs heavy
like the gray news of an assassination.
The crystalline road you’ve taken
thinking it would lead to the money-mountain
like it did the others, has left you abandoned. Alone.
The heavy crown of art you tried hard to wear,
tried hard to bear, is there for us all
on the dust covered floor,
dropped in your dope-drowse.
The leg-splayed nod you slid into while the others played on
trying to ignore the thousandth time you screwed up.
Though this time no easy return.
No picking up where you’d left off.
Only that old hocked horn,
lying there broken, echoing its songs.
Robert Kokan has had poetry published in Bramble, and the ezines Yellow Mama and Breathe.
Listen to the 1959 recording of Sonny Stitt playing “Morning After Blues,” with Lou Levy (piano); Leroy Vinnegar (bass); and Mel Lewis (drums). [Universal Music Group]
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