A COLTRANE BALLAD
For Jimmie and Carolyn
A soft saxophone
inscribes its light melody
on this moonlit night.
It feels so vibrant
like your youth revisited
but better than that.
and that brass rings like silver,
like laughter, like love
And the well-worn song
rehearses its chorus: Too
young to go steady.
Suspended somewhere between
the bold bottom notes-
dominated by flat keys-
and those long, right hand
figures that almost melt
into a bugle call
there’s something hidden.
that can’t be described
only conjured by Estelle’s voice
pleading for someone
to make her a pallet on the ground.
You can spend all day
Tripping over grails
And never see them:
The smell of well made wine;
Sun flashing off a fifty-seven T-bird;
Summer dresses in February.
Finally, Miles’ horn hits “Summertime”
Just as your wife comes home
And you get to claim the mystery.
ARCHIVAL FOOTAGE: THE APOTHEOSIS OF MARY LOU WILLIAMS
It’s light on silver-black and white,
Grainy footage of a smoky room,
A woman at the keys. A spotlight
As perfectly round as the moon
Frames her form. She picks at a tune.
This is jazz, now, it’s uncertain.
Her fingers stop, hover, resume.
She stands, walks behind a curtain.
Years later-in color now-her
Faith allows her to break that long
Silence, permits her to return
To a keyboard. She was all wrong.
This is where those fingers belong.
God wants her to play piano.
A moment, then you know the song:
It Ain’t Necessarily So.
Kurt Weill, 1928/Sonny Rollins, 1955
Women appear out of the smoke
From long forgotten cigarettes.
Music conjures the burning looks,
Music makes you forget.
That’s not a sax, it’s a scalpel
Perfect for taking tunes apart.
Then his inhuman breath will pull
It from your shattered heart.
Maybe it’s something in the key
Or some arcane message in his tone,
But at some bars you’re sure you see
Her torn dress, hear her moans.
It’s a song-you almost hear words
Hinted at by high flats and low sharps.
Little by little your ear is lured
To sin sweetly in the dark.
It isn’t human, but it’s a voice,
Honed and edged, sharp as a knife,
Carving music from not quite noise
To force you to change your night.
About Mark J. Mitchell
Mark J. Mitchell studied writing and medieval literature at the University of California at Santa Cruz with Raymond Carver, George Hitchcock, Barbara Hull and Robert M. Durling.
His work has appeared in the anthologies Good Poems, American Places (Viking/Penguin), Line Drives (Southern Illinois University Press), Hunger Enough (Puddinghouse Press) and Zeus Seduces the Wicked Stepmother in the Saloon of the Gingerbread House (Winterhawk Press). His chapbook, Three Visitors won the 2010 Negative Capability Press International Chapbook competition and was published in 2011. His novel Knight Prisoner is available from Vagabondage Press
His poems have also appeared in many magazines over the last twenty years, including J Journal, kayak, Blue Unicorn, Black Bough, Santa Barbara Review, Pearl, Runes and Poem.