Two poems for Billy Strayhorn and Stephane Grappelli — by Larsen Bowker

May 17th, 2016

 

 

 

A BLUES UNTITLED

“another good man done and gone”

 

Grabbing the blue basket of bottles I’d promised
to take to a recycle plant and then forgotten,

I drove too fast down a twisting mountain road,
safe in a young man’s faith that death is abstract

truth until a radio voice — speaking over Johnny Hodges’
sweet tenor on his “Take the A Train” — intones,

“Billy Strayhorn — born in a shotgun house in Georgia
— died today in New York City,” Harlem blue

notes playing requiem into a raw blue autumn sky,
Cat Anderson’s chiseled trumpet on his signature

“Lush Life,” grace notes echo and re-echo until
Ellington’s velvet voice fell like slow rain through

city street lights:  “he created the climate our band
played in, his sixth sense for melody prowling round

my midnight madness…he takes the seed with him,
but leaves the grass”…then speaking as if to himself,

“Nothing will ever be the same again”…repeating
the words like elegant cry and response — gospel

hymn and gut bucket moan for the lone blue ghost
that sifts through the dew wet evening light.

     For Billy Strayhorn

 

 

_____

 

 

 

 

 

WHITE BIRD LIVING AT THE RIVER’S EDGE

 

Driving in the ivory light of a cognac moon, a voice
on the car radio startled me out from that

nightdrift into triangling headlights:  “Parisian Jazz
violinist, Stephane Grappelli, dead at 89,”

and I leaned my head out of the window, letting
the night wet smell of Honeysuckle fill me with

the ache of his “Summertime” and “Sweet Georgia
Brown,” lacy arpeggios the decolletage

of linen blouses, linnet wings loose upon midnight
air…a coquette’s fingers — part Gypsy jive,

part peacock preen, part Paris moon — easing
flowerets from fiddle notes sweet enough

rivers jump over mountains and silver salmon sing
in the streets…dreamy incantations setting

blue-eyed boys on paths to quarry ponds on summer
afternoons, coaxing wood nymphs out

of hiding and plumbers to dance pagan frolics under
stained glass windows, and lovers to linger

over kisses in Luxembourg Gardens…agons
of grief finding release in the joy of music

as golden as the whiskey kept under his chair
“for emergencies”…a lone white bird living

at river’s edge — delices to any who believe souls
are bees and the world nothing but flowers.

  For Stephane Grappelli

 

 

_____

 

 

About Larsen Bowker

larsen

Larsen Bowker is retired from teaching, coaching and other mundanities to concentrate on the writing of poetry, which he sorely wishes he had begun earlier, because, as his granddaughter at eleven pointed out, “grandpa you are fast approaching your ‘sell by date’”. Bowker has had poems published recently in Atlanta Review, Poem, Pearl and Iconoclast. His sixth book of poems, Between Two Rivers, was published in 2015 by Bellowing Ark Press.

_____

 Billy Strayhorn plays “Take the ‘A’ Train”

“It Had to Be You,” by Stephane Grappelli

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One comments on “Two poems for Billy Strayhorn and Stephane Grappelli — by Larsen Bowker”

  1. The swinging tones you wrote in “White Bird at a River’s Edge” up until “…part Paris moon” capture’s Stephane Grappelli’s musical rhythm, with the second half of the poem mimicking his soft, clear melodies. You have done a great job connecting the two to his music.

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