“Thelonious Monk’s Moods” – a poem by Sean Murphy

December 9th, 2020



Coat and Hats/Thelonious Monk,” by Martel Chapman

Thelonious Monk 'Coat and Hats' by Martell Chapman



Thelonious Monk’s Moods

Imagine the ocean
and holding it
with only two hands,
and one outsized mind.

Only God,
or the moon,
can move the tides.

And since God is dead
that’s a Hell
of a lot to ask
of one man.

So what do you do

When the water keeps coming,
wave after wave,
the salty weight of this world
every other second

On the shore:
full of scoffed pebbles
like stars scattered

Far Out, in space.

What is music
if not the art
of uncontainable energy
checking itself?

Notes from Underground:
a crepuscular kind of occupation
(since custom or tradition,
or transcendence—
lost in translation—
compels it?)


You think you’re ill-equipped
to unravel these misteriosos, and
what they’re saying, or from whence
they came?

being The Man

Who heard them

Thinking & dancing & Rhythm-a-Ning
his way through life’s mess
of magic and mystery.

The loneliest monk

transcribing such sounds
like some new bible:
The ugly beauty
of brilliant corners.

If that piano could talk…

It would sing a song
of salvation and sorrow,
and the ways
we make ourselves

to the ecstasies,
those man-made
miracles some consider
a sort of sustenance.

They say Monk went silent
‘cuz he said all he had to say,
But couldn’t it be true
That he just got tired?

Speaking, or eavesdropping

On himself, obliged
to that breaking sea
inside his head, not
broken but disabused.

Unwell, watching
immodest clock-thumpers,
gone gray
in stifling suits:
in the art of becoming

Machines in the ghost, making more
money than sense, evading all
engagement or anything
not on display
in bored rooms.

The ocean, after all,
and at long last,

Can always account for itself.






Sean Murphy has appeared on NPR’s “All Things Considered” and appeared 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 forthcoming from Finishing Line Press. To learn more, visit seanmurphy.net






Martel Chapman is a Wisconsin native whose art is heavily influenced by music and musical instruments.  His work has been featured in many venues, notably at the American Jazz Museum in Kansas City.


Click here to visit his website



Listen to a 1963 recording of Thelonious Monk play “Rhythm-A-Ning,” with Charlie Rouse (sax), Frankie Dunlop (drums) and John Ore (bass)






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