Poetry by Andrew H. Oerke

February 10th, 2012










The pipe-organ sea on-drones a dirge for you
as it will for the last whale’s final soundings.
Deep in the ocean’s heart, Hart has found a home.

Before his final voyage, from the shore he watched
the breakers as they slipped each blow, master
counterpunchers with kayoes in each fist.
Those knuckles blanch to foam they punch so hard
the jaws of jetties, the ribs of rivers’ repose,
there where Gravity levels the sea-surge
in estuaries’ bracken. There where our lungs emerged.
The bottom of the sea is cruel. So is
Time’s piracy should kids grow old too fast,
their mechanical wind-up toys too lame for catching up,
and Hart could hear the fathoms calling out his name.

Waves tat a rhythm; whitecaps thump the ruffled shore.
Your Brooklyn buttresses span not just the land,
but vault in a great leap forward to the Muse-God,
who redeems a savage and prosaic world.
Dear Hart, a ghostly dolphin stitches your immaculate
cords of imagery to the waves breaking for you in my heart.












In the beginning was the Word and
the Word was God so Papa scribbled like mad,
though nobody knew him yet as “Papa.”
His goatskin hands Esaued across the terraces
of the old Royal’s scrambled alphabet keys clicking
like stone crabs side-stilting across Lower Keys coral rock.
He was fishing for the perfect sentence he
said he would swap his life for; which he did,
for style’s more dangerous and digs deeper than
any crazy idea, just content can.

He really loved his house. He tossed a catwalk
from his bedroom to his Teddy R.-type
studio above the six-toed kittens, the urinal
he toted from Sloppy Joe’s for his pussies
to sip from. Then there’s his frontyard boxing ring.
And there’s his Hollywood swimming pool Goddamn it,
an’ Goddamn this an’ Goddamn that an’
also the tourists and every morning to pick
up exactly with what he had wanted to say next,
and in the beginning was the Word
and the Word was God, unlike Time, which is mortal;
and oh how he loved the sneaky little word “and.”

Sticks and stones knocked him down but never out,
hair on his chest and all that. Only the words
mattered for the final weigh-in for the final bout.
He began to think words were things: His word-house
had hard word sidings resting on stilted words.
The world was born to realize its words.
The wineskin on the wall was a word, the gore of war
was words, the right ones in the right sequence;
lions faced and bagged, his great love lost: all words.












This is the house where the poet William
Faulkner lived n died. In the pines,
in the pines where the sun never shines, planks
were sawmilled from the trunks to make a house
that stands pat with a roof on its shoulders
to keep it from sagging to either side.
In front of the house emblematic magnolias
rattle their metallic petals in the wind.

In the loblolly pines on hot Southern nights
the horses n hounds, dappled with moonlight
chased the foxy vixen smart as a whip
and brilliant as instinct that won’t hesitate
to do what it knows how to do. Yoknapatawa
County was afraid he would resurrect zombies
from its cotton-pickin, antebellum cemetery.

He would stand there staring for eight hours straight
at the courthouse, concentrating on
an ever-finer point till the point was so small
it slipped through the world into words
where material and perception were connected
and the wordless world and the words were one
in the glia in the gray matter that is tickled
so as to unblock the tumblers in the mind
where treasures are stashed: There, under the old
courthouse in the old square, in its records.

He stood there eight hours straight and the towns-
people thought he was crazy but now they’ve
put up a statue and he stares for twenty-four
seven without let-up at the buried records,
so who’s got the last word now? He lived
among verbs n participles, prepositions
and propositions, verbs n nouns and could
drag out a sentence for seven pages
if he wanted to or short as a few syllables,
it was all the same, words, words, words,
as Hamlet said on another occasion,
and then the periods, beyond which the truth lies.












Mark Twain’s paddlewheelers churned up n down
the north/south corridor linking east n west
via the Mighty Mo and the Ohio
lugging pioneers n baggage in so
many directions; Mississippi Mama,
Frontier Father, and our Mighty Muse.

Now it’s, “Whoa, don’t touch that dial, have a Big Mac”
but “Mark it twain,” the captain hollered back then,
n Hemingway rowed out of the Des Plaines into
the Big River. Hart Crane and Sherwood Anderson
understood the Ohio was born to flow downward.
F. Scott started where the spring sprung, brilliantine
hairdo glistening like the rapids
that fingerwaved his brain with Hollywood
undulations and straight lines. Faulkner, Billy,
struck phrases like medals, sentences like coinage
a few miles off-shore n down to the cottonmouth
Delta dangerous as the blues n jazz combined.

So sailed to St. Louis and the homestead
of Thomas Stearns, a parking lot now, three blocks
on the other side of the tracks from where
Tennessee Williams’ apartment house modeled
as a movie set for the Glass Menagerie,
and there was Marianne Moore slapping down cards;
Saul was canoodling the Chicago River,
dishing out the dirt, the give and take,
shaking his spear and reminding us all
that meaning has a meaning as it meanders
right through the guts of any watershed
you can imagine and which will give you portage.
Watersheds make a culture, especially
one that turns itself into a Gulfstream
and was once a sound as big as an ocean
in the ice age before global warming.
So go read about voyageurs, Pontiac,
George Rogers Clark who made it all happen,
and Mississippi Mama just keeps rolling along.


About Andrew H. Oerke

“I recently returned to poetry, my first love, after many years in development work with the Peace Corps and other voluntary organizations.

Poems of mine have appeared in The New Yorker, The New Republic, Poetry, and in numerous other magazines. In 2006 two new books of my poetry, African Stiltdancer and San Miguel de Allende, were published jointly by Swan Books and the UN Society for Writers and Artists. They have received the United Nations Literature Award.


Share this:

Comment on this article:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

A Letter From the Publisher

An appeal for contributions to support the ongoing publishing efforts of Jerry Jazz Musician

In This Issue

The Modern Jazz Quintet by Everett Spruill
A Collection of Jazz Poetry — Summer, 2023 Edition

A wide range of topics are found in this collection. Tributes are paid to Tony Bennett and Ahmad Jamal and to the abstract worlds of musicians like Ornette Coleman and Pharoah Sanders; the complex lives of Chet Baker and Nina Simone are considered; devotions to Ellington and Basie are revealed; and personal solace is found in the music of Tommy Flanagan and Quartet West. These are poems of peace, reflection, time, venue and humor – all with jazz at their core. (Featuring the art of Everett Spruill)

The Sunday Poem

photo by William Gottlieb/Library of Congress
“Fledging” by John L. Stanizzi


photo courtesy of Henry Threadgill
Interview with Brent Hayes Edwards, co-author (with Henry Threadgill) of Easily Slip Into Another World: A Life in Music...The author discusses his work co-written with Threadgill, the composer and multi-instrumentalist widely recognized as one of the most original and innovative voices in contemporary music, and the winner of the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Music.


painting by Henry Denander
A collection of jazz haiku...This collection, featuring 22 poets, is an example of how much love, humor, sentimentality, reverence, joy and sorrow poets can fit into their haiku devoted to jazz.

In Memoriam

Fotograaf Onbekend / Anefo, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons
A thought or two about Tony Bennett


"BG Boogie’s musical tour of indictment season"...The podcaster “BG Boogie” has weaponized the most recent drama facing The Former Guy, creating a 30 minute playlist “with all the latest up-to-date-est musical indictments of political ineptitude.”


Chick Webb/photographer unknown
Interview with Stephanie Stein Crease, author of Rhythm Man: Chick Webb and the Beat That Changed America...The author talks about her book and Chick Webb, once at the center of America’s popular music, and among the most influential musicians in jazz history.


FOTO:FORTEPAN / Kölcsey Ferenc Dunakeszi Városi Könyvtár / Petanovics fényképek, CC BY-SA 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons
.“Community Bookshelf, #1"...a twice-yearly space where writers who have been published on Jerry Jazz Musician can share news about their recently authored books. This edition includes information about books published within the last six months or so…

Short Fiction

photo vi Wallpaper Flare
Short Fiction Contest-winning story #63 — “Company” by Anastasia Jill...Twenty-year-old Priscilla Habel lives with her wannabe flapper mother who remains stuck in the jazz age 40 years later. Life is monotonous and sad until Cil meets Willie Flasterstain, a beatnik lesbian who offers an escape from her mother's ever-imposing shadow.


Trading Fours, with Douglas Cole, No. 16: “Little Waltz” and “Summertime”...Trading Fours with Douglas Cole is an occasional series of the writer’s poetic interpretations of jazz recordings and film. In this edition, he connects the recordings of Jessica Williams' "Little Waltz" and Gene Harris' "Summertime."


photo by Bob Hecht
This 28-song Spotify playlist, curated by Jerry Jazz Musician contributing writer Bob Hecht, features great tunes performed by the likes of Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Sarah Vaughan, Charlie Parker, Sonny Rollins, Bill Evans, Lester Young, Stan Getz, and…well, you get the idea.


photo of Wolfman Jack via Wikimedia Commons
“Wolfman and The Righteous Brothers” – a poem by John Briscoe

Jazz History Quiz #167

GuardianH, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Before becoming one of television’s biggest stars, he was a competent ragtime and jazz piano player greatly influenced by Scott Joplin (pictured), and employed a band of New Orleans musicians similar to the Original Dixieland Jazz Band to play during his vaudeville revue. Who was he?

Short Fiction

photo via PIXNIO/CC0
“The Sound Barrier” – a short story by Bex Hansen

Short Fiction

back cover of Diana Krall's album "The Girl in the Other Room" [Verve]
“Improvised: A life in 7ths, 9ths and Suspended 4ths” – a short story by Vikki C.


photo by William Gottlieb/Library of Congress
Long regarded as jazz music’s most eminent baritone saxophonist, Gerry Mulligan was a central figure in “cool” jazz whose contributions to it also included his important work as a composer and arranger. Noted jazz scholar Alyn Shipton, author of The Gerry Mulligan 1950s Quartets, and Jerry Jazz Musician contributing writer Bob Hecht discuss Mulligan’s unique contributions to modern jazz.


photo by Giovanni Piesco
Giovanni Piesco’s photographs of Tristan Honsinger


Maurice Mickle considers jazz venues, in two poems

In Memoriam

David Becker, CC BY-SA 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons
“Tony Bennett, In Memoriam” – a poem by Erren Kelly


IISG, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Ella Fitzgerald, in poems by Claire Andreani and Michael L. Newell

Book Excerpt

“Chick” Webb was one of the first virtuoso drummers in jazz and an innovative bandleader dubbed the “Savoy King,” who reigned at Harlem’s world-famous Savoy Ballroom. Stephanie Stein Crease is the first to fully tell Webb’s story in her biography, Rhythm Man: Chick Webb and the Beat that Changed America…The book’s entire introduction is excerpted here.


Hans Christian Hagedorn, professor for German and Comparative Literature at the University of Castilla-La Mancha in Ciudad Real (Spain) reveals the remarkable presence of Miguel de Cervantes’ classic Don Quixote in the history of jazz.

Short Fiction

Dmitry Rozhkov, CC BY-SA 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons
“A Skull on the Moscow Leningrad Sleeper” – a short story by Robert Kibble...A story revolving around a jazz record which means so much to a couple that they risk being discovered while attempting to escape the Soviet Union

Book Excerpt

Book excerpt from Easily Slip Into Another World: A Life in Music, by Henry Threadgill and Brent Hayes Edwards

Short Fiction

photo via Appletreeauction.com
“Streamline Moderne” – a short story by Amadea Tanner

Publisher’s Notes

“C’est Si Bon” – at trip's end, a D-Day experience, and an abundance of gratitude


photo by William Gottlieb/Library of Congress
A Charlie Parker Poetry Collection...Nine poets, nine poems on the leading figure in the development of bebop…

Contributing Writers

Click the image to view the writers, poets and artists whose work has been published on Jerry Jazz Musician, and find links to their work


Photo of Stanley Crouch by Michael Jackson
Interview with Glenn Mott, editor of Victory is Assured: The Uncollected Writings of Stanley Crouch (photo of Stanley Crouch by Michael Jackson)


photo of Sonny Rollins by Brian McMillen
Interview with Aidan Levy, author of Saxophone Colossus: The Life and Music of Sonny Rollins...The author discusses his book about the iconic tenor saxophonist who is one of the greatest jazz improvisers of all time – a lasting link to the golden age of jazz


Designed for Dancing: How Midcentury Records Taught America to Dance: “Outtakes” — Vol. 2...In this edition, the authors Janet Borgerson and Jonathan Schroeder share examples of Cha Cha Cha record album covers that didn't make the final cut in their book

Pressed for All Time

“Pressed For All Time,” Vol. 17 — producer Joel Dorn on Rahsaan Roland Kirk’s 1967 album, The Inflated Tear


© Veryl Oakland
John McLaughlin and Carlos Santana are featured in this edition of photographs and stories from Veryl Oakland’s book, Jazz in Available Light

Coming Soon

An interview with Judith Tick, author of Becoming Ella Fitzgerald: The Jazz Singer Who Transformed American Song; A new collection of jazz poetry; a new Jazz History Quiz; short fiction; poetry; photography; interviews; playlists; and lots more in the works...

Interview Archive

Eubie Blake
Click to view the complete 22 year archive of Jerry Jazz Musician interviews, including those recently published with Richard Carlin and Ken Bloom on Eubie Blake (pictured); Richard Brent Turner on jazz and Islam; Alyn Shipton on the art of jazz; Shawn Levy on the original queens of standup comedy; Travis Atria on the expatriate trumpeter Arthur Briggs; Kitt Shapiro on her life with her mother, Eartha Kitt; Will Friedwald on Nat King Cole; Wayne Enstice on the drummer Dottie Dodgion; the drummer Joe La Barbera on Bill Evans; Philip Clark on Dave Brubeck; Nicholas Buccola on James Baldwin and William F. Buckley; Ricky Riccardi on Louis Armstrong; Dan Morgenstern and Christian Sands on Erroll Garner; Maria Golia on Ornette Coleman.

Site Archive