The Sunday Poem: “Charles Mingus’s Memento*” by Sean Murphy

March 26th, 2023

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The Sunday Poem  is published weekly, and strives to include the poet reading their work.

Mr. Murphy reads his poem at its conclusion.

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Charles Mingus's East Coasting on Bethlehem Records

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Charles Mingus’s Memento*

East Coasting: on that album cover he’s almost skinny,
most definitely in fighting trim, and if there’s one thing
we know Charles Mingus was always up for it was a fight,
and if he wasn’t supplied a satisfactory sparring partner
he always had himself, which was the story of his life—
a body (of work) so substantial nobody could ignore him.

Mingus was simply too formidable to fit into clothes
advertised inside store-room windows, or magazines
pushed to pimp product; he had his own goods to sell
(or not sell, also the story of his life, making him more
or less like any jazz musician, not to mention most men
who dare acknowledge themselves—justly—as gods).

We speak of this great man’s prodigious appetites,
but few of us can fathom what it’s like, swallowing
indignities like subways consuming cities and then,
as he did in ’57, hustling out five albums in one year—
those stupefying months where his art exploded like a seed
the size of a star, swung toward earth, all shine & sound.

East Coasting? Surely Mingus wasn’t talking topography
but making a statement: he was all-world and this universe
could never contain him (or the I of his creative hurricanes:
in other words I am three, he wrote, another story in a life
filled with false starts, fake prophets, and the solitary thing
so many wise and wary loners learn to embrace: resistance.)

This man, unaccompanied, was equal to any army; give him
a quintet and he’d conquer a country. Equipped with his own
big band? Mingus would ingest the world and reproduce it
in his singular image, which is precisely what he did—scoffing
at the four-letter word that can’t describe all the things he was
& how he died: fighting the silence with these songs of himself.

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(*East Coasting  is one of five albums Mingus recorded in 1957.)

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Listen to Sean Murphy read his poem

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Sean Murphy has appeared on NPR’s “All Things Considered” as well as in USA Today, The New York Times, The Huffington Post, and AdAge. A long-time columnist for PopMatters, his work has also appeared in Salon, The Village Voice, Washington City Paper, The Good Men Project, Memoir Magazine, and others. He has twice been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, and his chapbook, The Blackened Blues, is now available from Finishing Line Press. To learn more, visit seanmurphy.net

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Listen to the 1957 Bethlehem Records recording of Charles Mingus playing “West Coast Ghost” (from the album East Coasting), with Bill Evans (piano); Shafi Hadi (saxophone); Jimmy Knepper (trombone); Clarence Shaw (trumpet); Dannie Richmond (drums).

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Click here  to view previous editions of The Sunday Poem

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Click here  for information about how to submit your poetry

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3 comments on “The Sunday Poem: “Charles Mingus’s Memento*” by Sean Murphy”

  1. Well, I’m going to take all my Mingus LP’s and Cd’s off the shelf and give them a listen over the next week or so. Thanks Sean!

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