Poetry by Mark J. Mitchell

January 15th, 2011




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.

Autumn’s blossoming
      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.





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.

Share this:

Comment on this article:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

In This Issue

Maxine Gordon, author of Sophisticated Giant: The Life and Legacy of Dexter Gordon, talks about her book, and the complex life of her late husband.

Also in this issue…A new collection of jazz poetry; "On the Turntable," a new playlist of 22 recommended recordings by seven jazz artists; three new podcasts by Bob Hecht; a new “Great Encounters”; several short stories; the photography of Veryl Oakland and Charles Ingham; a new Jazz History Quiz; and lots more…

On the Turntable

This month, a playlist of 22 recently released jazz recordings, including those by Chris Potter, Sons of Kemet, Stephan Crump, Brittany Anjou, Julian Lage, Joey DeFrancesco and Antonio Sanchez


Seventeen poets contribute 21 poems in this month’s edition…

The Joys of Jazz

In new podcasts, Bob Hecht tells three stories; one about Miles Davis’ use of space in his music, one on the mutual admiration society of Sinatra, Lady Day, and Lester Young, and the other about the train in jazz and blues music.

“What are some of your all-time favorite record album covers?”

Gary Giddins, Jimmy Heath, Fred Hersch, Joe Hagan, Maxine Gordon, Neil Tesser, Tim Page, Veronica Swift and Marcus Strickland are among the 25 writers, musicians, poets, educators, and photographers who write about their favorite album cover art


“Thinking about Ida B. Wells” — a photo narrative by Charles Ingham

Jazz History Quiz #126

In 1964, along with the orchestra of arranger Lalo Schifrin (pictured), this flutist/alto sax player recorded one of the first “Jazz Masses,” and soon after studied transcendental meditation in India. He would eventually become well known as a composer of music for meditation. Who is he?

Great Encounters

Dexter Gordon tells the story of joining Louis Armstrong’s band in 1944, and how they enjoyed their intermission time.


In this edition of Veryl Oakland’s “Jazz in Available Light,” photographs of Red Garland, Dizzy Gillespie and Rahsaan Roland Kirk are featured.

Short Fiction

"Strings of Solace," a short story by Kimberly Parish Davis


Romare Bearden biographer Mary Schmidt Campbell discusses the life of the important 20th century American artist

Cover Stories with Paul Morris

In this edition, Paul writes about jazz album covers that offer glimpses into intriguing corners of the culture of the 1950’s

Short Fiction

"And so we went to Paris," a short story by Sophie Jonas-Hill

Coming Soon

National Book Award winning author for non-fiction Jeffrey Stewart is interviewed about his book The New Negro: The Life of Alain Locke

In the previous issue

The question “What are some of your all-time favorite record album covers?” was posed via email to a small number of prominent and diverse people, and the responses of Gary Giddins, Jimmy Heath, Fred Hersch, Joe Hagan, Maxine Gordon, Tim Page, Veronica Swift and Marcus Strickland are among the 25 writers, musicians, poets, educators, and photographers who participated...Also, the publication of the winning story in our 50th Short Fiction contest; an interview with Romare Bearden biographer Mary Schmidt Campbell; a collection of jazz poetry; two new podcasts by Bob Hecht; the March edition of "On the Turntable," and lots more...Click here to be taken to the issue.

Contributing writers

Site Archive