Off the Wagon Rag

Let me sing the shimmying
banjo on the Red
Wine Street corner;
pullin’ in ears
like soup cans
pipin’ hot gossip
through thin strings;

hear that boys?

ain’t nothing but
some trombone tones
in the sewer stank
corner. Answering
With a cat -
skinning slide up
the alley-way.

The brilly brass sings

Halleluhia coming down
a clothesline and
into a black
bears’ ear – honeycomb
song sticky as
hot blue vinyl
suits on Sunday;

And down South Street

orange afternoon heat
taps over awnings
where the snare
drum searches  the
beat, steals a
kick-drum tom
over some static.

The clock-melting
sunshine kept time
and surprises
no one who knows
the ragged rhythm never


quits. It simply shifts.
billowing out the cracks
between the keys and
streets and sheets until

both the sun
and the snare,
the bright, tipsy
banjo and the
slum cat screech
meet in the
honeypot lamplit
night to get down,

The composition built
out of color and necessity
and trumpet grease.

I’d be there if I could.
If I understood
The blackened blue
beat on the corner,
dancing outside the
streetsigns and dividing lines
while I tap my toes
on the side,

Feet eager and unsure,
The music procured
Not for tone but
For a metronome-
Keeping me steady,
Teaching me: what
IS jazz but a pocketful of

sound shot through
blunderbuss ear buds,
colliding with a city-
starved imagination?

Hot blue bass
Pullin’ a country-
cat towards


Chicago, 2010

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