“Coltrane Upstate” — a poem by Jay Franzel

February 21st, 2020

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photo by Hugo van Gelderen/Creative Commons CC01.0

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Coltrane Upstate

Walking on the wall around Jerusalem’s Old City
I meet Gary, a potter from New Orleans.
He tells me he’s hitchhiking to Africa
but talks mostly about music—Blind Willie, Sister Rosetta—
a record collection back home he calls “the pension fund.”

Decca Sepia Series, man, also called race records.
Harlem Hamfats, Peaty Wheatstraw,
Alberta Hunter—she’s still touring, must be 90 now—
Blue Lu Barker, born New Orleans—

 We wander past stone, gold in sepia light,
gold dome of the mosque, past saffron, ginger,
mustard seed, turmeric, in polished wooden boxes—

spice vendor’s huge sleeveless arms
shoveling golden herbs to paper sacks in the central market.

Do you stand on the Jericho Road with a sign that says, Africa?

Gary’s talking about John Coltrane, on a trip upstate:
Dark glasses against yellow glare, country sun
unhindered by buildings, ceilings or cigarette smoke.
Coltrane asks the driver to stop, he steps to the pebbly shoulder,

black pants, white shirt, horn glinting gold,
facing cows in the pasture, him and them.

Believers bob black and white at The Western Wall
and all gold gone sepia in late Jerusalem light.
Man you oughtta hear Georgia White
sing Sinkin’ Sun Blues.

Coltrane blowing golden sax to Catskill cows:
Some people just know who they are.

I’m alone in an alley in the dark. Stragglers pass,
walking home from evening prayer.
An Arab kid clicking, ck-ck -ck-ck to his donkey,
laughs at me as he rides by, donkey clattering
into silence. Seems like she’s laughing too.

They’ve turned to darkness. I can’t see the gold or the grime,
mutter something about waiting for the eremitic moon.

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Jay Franzel lives in Wayne, ME, recently retired after working with at-risk youth for over 30 years. He has published poems in numerous journals and anthologies and received poetry grants from the Maine Arts Commission and St Botolph’s Foundation. He is the organizer of The Bookey Readings, a spoken-word series at the Harlow Gallery in Hallowell, Maine.

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