Because I Am
In mem. Sidney Bechet, 1897-1959
by Hayden Carruth
Because I am a memorious old man
I’ve been asked to write about you, Papa Sidney,
Improvising in standard meter on a well-known
Motif, as you did all those nights in Paris
And the world. I remember once in Chicago
On the the Near North where you were playing with
A white band, how you became disgusted
And got up and sat in front next to the bandstand
And ordered four ponies of brandy; and then
You drank them one by one, and threw the empty
Glasses at the trumpet-player. Everyone laughed,
Of course, but you were dead serious — sitting there
With your fuzzy white head in your rumpled navy
Serge. When you lifted that brass soprano to your
Lips and blew, you were superb, the best of all,
The first and best, and Iliad to my ears.
And always your proper Creole name was mis-
Pronounced. Now you are lost in the bad shadows
Of time past; you are a dark man in the darkness,
Who knew us all in music. Out of the future
I hear ten thousand saxophones mumbling
In your riffs and textures, Papa Sidney. And when
I stand up trembling in darkness to recite
I see sparkling glass ponies come sailing at me
Out of the reaches of the impermeable night.
From DOCTOR JAZZ, by Hayden Carruth.
Used by permission of Copper Canyon Press.