The Sunday Poem: “When Sonny Gets Gray” by John Menaghan

July 6th, 2024

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

John Menaghan reads his poem at its conclusion.

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Tom Beetz, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Sonny Rollins in 2011

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When Sonny Gets Gray
……………………………………….September 25, 2011

Surely Sonny still gets blue at times

I mean he’s a human being after all
isn’t he although sometimes he
seems more superhuman celestial
take now for instance as he bends
nearly all the way to the stage in
his 80s and plays and plays
and plays and plays and plays

His lungs maybe not what they were
breath shorter now though he’s
still long and lean his solos mean
but not with notes spreading exotic
little clusters of sound all around
the hall while the rest of us watch
and wonder hoping he won’t fall
as he bends so low so low so low
his horn nearly scrapes the floor

Now he wails away in some strange
unteachable combination of design
inspiration and sheer fearless what
to call it resourcefulness like the cold
burning calculated passionate endless
improvisation he dug into out on
Brooklyn Bridge many years ago

What does he know the rest of us
don’t he knows who Sonny is and
isn’t when to blow and not to blow
and simply or not so simply doesn’t
care what anyone might have to say
about playing his way it’s all he knows
everything about his horn and the music
they like to call jazz though he doesn’t
care to call it anything anything
anything at all at all do you hear
him now getting carried away away

Nothing new about that it’s just
his way even when he loses his
way he finds some place to stay
linger abide or hide away not lost
really not exactly just hanging
out till something comes along
comes back presents itself for
inspection a new direction that
drives him past some barrier only
he can see or feel or know to be real

Indifferent to the ones who say come
on now take us back to the melody
or anyway just play OK don’t keep us
waiting any longer well you can wait
don’t you know and if you don’t he does
who knows too it’ll be worth the wait
when he finally picks back up the sax
he’s setting down right now placing it
carefully up against the stand before
moving away to the side of the stage
pausing halfway into the wings to rest
after his unbeatable unrepeatable flight
through a mad maze of notes and chords

Maybe he can’t play as long and hard as
he once did anymore or maybe he can
he’ll never tell though Sonny got gray
he’s Sonny still going strong along
a path only he can see isn’t that
the way it’s supposed to be as
applause washes over him now
less like a wave than a bit of breeze
that’s meant to cool him but how could
he ever ever be any more cool or hot
or whatever in between he desired
to be see Sonny rules Sonny Rollins
rules Rollins follows no rules
not even his own alone at
the edge of the stage while
the others play and he thinks
about coming back picking up
the horn again picking up right
where he left off or maybe not

Something happening either way
no one could have predicted
though why would you try when
you’re here to hear Sonny and find
out what happens next something
always does and it’s always
next no point in even trying
to predict or keep up and before
you know it he’s away again

Tag along if you can who knows
occasionally you might even hear
something that sounds wait for it
could that possibly be so hard to
feel certain what you’re hearing
exactly still it sounds like my God
you’ve got to be kidding me can
this really be true how could it be
no way that almost sounds like a
almost sounds like a .. a .. a.. a

like a .. like.. a .. song.. a.. song

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Listen to John Menaghan read his poem

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Winner of an Academy of American Poets Prize and other awards, John Menaghan has published 4 books with Salmon Poetry –All the Money in the World  (1999),  She Alone  (2006),  What Vanishes  (2009),  and  Here and Gone (2014) — as well as poems and articles in Irish, British, American, and Canadian journals, and given poetry readings in Ireland, England, Scotland, France, Hungary, Canada, and across the U.S. from New York to Honolulu.

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Listen to a live recording of Sonny Rollins performing “Biji,” with Clifton Anderson (trombone); Stephen Scott (piano); Bob Cranshaw (bass); Perry Wilson (drums); and Kimati Dinizulu (percussion).  [Okeh Records]

 

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Click here to read previous editions of The Sunday Poem

Click here to read “A Collection of Jazz Poetry – Spring/Summer, 2024 Edition”

Click here to read “Ballad,” Lúcia Leão’s winning story in the 65th Jerry Jazz Musician Short Fiction Contest

Click here for information about how to submit your poetry or short fiction

Click here to subscribe to the (free) Jerry Jazz Musician quarterly newsletter

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In This Issue

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