“New York Triptych, 1950s” – a poem by Jim Donnelly

May 9th, 2023

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photo via Flicker/CC0 2.0 photo via PxFuel photo via Wikimedia Commons

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New York Triptych, 1950s
……….(for Ted Bookey)

The Bronx

“I wore this jacket, I remember, that showed it off to good effect…
Months of competitions…Coney Island, Atlantic City…My buddies and me…
Well, I wore this jacket – it brought out my chest, my arms…I was there to
see a friend in their neighborhood… After months of muscle shows, I was
cocksure. They hung back that day, splitting the throng to let me pass, just eyeing
me, a bit stunned I think, those Irish bastards.”

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Bop City

A battered cat patrols a glass-strewn lot
Pigeons explode like heart attack hyphens
The day put to death behind tenements…
Inside
Brass lifts the city’s grim quarantine
Mitchell and Cook
out front with Horace Silver
Sinewy lines
Muscular and graceful
A trim gabardine: “Y’all boys know where we can get some weed?”
The light-loafered waiter
The brunette with the risque stockings
Her mouth a study
The occasional zoot trundles by
And then those horns…

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Harlem – Bud Powell

In a two room flat, thickly curtained
He abandons the sheet music
At his piano
Holding his head
Dented from police batons
The moon is starch white
Like hospital linens he knows too well
He retrieves a shivering kitten
From the stairwell
Cups it in his copper calloused hands
A bedside lamp, a bedpost
A coffee-ringed fan letter
Bearing a Paris postmark
He cries but can’t recall a reason

Stories below,
Three sharp-dressed boys
Are on their way to Mintons
Whistling “Bouncing with Bud”
Sirens crowd out the melody
The kitten curls on piano keys
Like splayed fingers
The dusk descends
The city is mute
One random, astonishing moment
A silence between manic chords

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Jim Donnelly is a writer and musician, whose only certificate is a GED.  He grew up in the underclass, working everything from busboy to bus driver, trucker to forklift op., cabby to clerk, all while rounding the club circuit at night.  A former journalist for the Aquarian, with two collections of poetry from a small press in Maine.

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Listen to Bud Powell play “Bouncing With Bud”   [The Orchard Enterprises]

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photo credits, left to right:

photo #1: Tilgins.”Couple on Caterpillar ride at Coney Island amusement park.” Museum of the City of New York/via Flicker/Creative Commons CC0 2.0 Generic

photo #2: via PxFuel

photo #3: English: Distributed by the Gale Agency in New York. Photographer uncredited and unknown., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

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