“In Memory of George Lewis, Great Jazzman” — a poem by Lou Lipsitz

January 3rd, 2014

 

In memory of George Lewis, Great Jazzman

1

Man is the animal that knows
the clarinet

makes his living
on the docks, a stevedore,
110lbs., carrying what loads
he can

the Depression comes along,
his teeth rot, no money and
he has to accept silence

 

2

Thirteen years
later
they put the instrument
back together
with rubber bands
bought him
new teeth
and then he began

 

I     C     E
E                            I
C                                C
I                                      E
C                                C
E                            I
I     C     E
C————————————————-C

R                              R

E                     E

A        A

M M

E      R                               A      V
V                       T                   W                 E
O                           H     E                                            S

M———————————————————————-T
Y                                                   I
B                                             N
U                                          I
C                                     E
K                                L
E                          O
T’                      H
S G O T A

One song they say

was pure
uninhibited joy
words
cannot tell you

survived so long
in those empty jaws

 

3

He lived and died
there.
Had a New Orleans funeral.

Leading the mourners
his old friends’ band
trudged
to the cemetery, heads
down, trombones scraping
the ground, slow tones of
“Just a Closer Walk…”
helping to carry
the solemn mud
of their steps.

Graveside,
words said, tears fallen,
they turned
to walk back;
a few beats on the big
drum, then soft plucking
of a banjo string-
in another block
the clarinet wailed
and then suddenly they were
playing
“The Saints…” full blast
and people jumped
and shouted and dances
just as he’d known they would.

 

4

Alright. There is a frailness
in all our music.
Sometimes we’re broken
and it’s lost.
Sometimes we forget
for years it’s even in us, heads
filled with burdens and smoke.

And sometimes we’ve held
to it and it’s there,
waiting to break out
walking back from the end.

 

_____

George Lewis, 1953

 

*

 

Lou Lipsitz grew up in Brooklyn and is now a psychotherapist and poet. He’s published four books of poems, the latest was If This World Falls Apart (Lynx House Press, 2011) which won the Blue Lynx award. His work has been widely anthologized. He lives in Chapel Hill, NC and attempts to play the harmonica. He loves jazz and Celtic music, especially.

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