An excerpt from a jazz poem I wrote in 2005 shortly after relocating to Atlanta from Omaha. My infatuation for newfound Georgia and the musician who inspired it is tell-tale. I met up with Brian in Memphis and we drove to Atlanta together, spent an interesting few weeks in low country embrace, and he asked if I would give him verse for a birthday gift. “Refrain” is what I came up with.
I was scraping by on pennies from freelance work, boarding in hotels and hostels, and making love in canoes on the Chattahoochee River, in the tall grasses at the warm mouth of the Atlantic, and on the hot leather seats of my Honda Accord trying best to savor the sweet and undeniable malaise of summer’s lust.
Drunk out of our minds, on a walking ghost tour of Savannah, Brian and I stumbled underneath a large oak tree in Oglethorpe Square. My great-uncle was hanged from a tree like this in his own yard, he said, untying the string on my tunic blouse. We kissed, his hand gently tugging at the seam until the blouse gaped open and my right shoulder was completely exposed. Brian pressed closer, whispered into the dots of sweat forming a constellation on my neck, I am the bastard son of my own love and hatred for the south – write me a poem.
A week later, lying in bed in the devoutly Christian main floor guest bedroom in the very proper and stately home of friends of my parents, I wrote out the poem on a brown paper bag since I didn’t have access to my computer (everything I owned was in storage in Nebraska).
An unmarried woman with child moving across the country, on a whim, without church home or lining between her backside and skirt is often the focus of speculation and eavesdropping; I did not want to be overheard panting pentameter into the phone at midnight so I sent it to him via txt message.
I hesitated when typing out one line in the poem, but hubris led me to push SEND:
my feet ain’t for settlin’, i’m just passin’ through
I woke up the next morning to his reply, “no man is safe with you! damn gypsy.”
My daughter returned from visiting her dad two weeks later, she and I we moved into a little house, and I started a new job as a corporate science writer with an R&D firm. Hurricane Katrina happened four weeks later. And then autumn and a new poem. And a return to order. And a lingering cold.
Below is the poem as it appeared in its first draft when I sent it to Brian.
Refrain for Brian’s Trumpet
orange half moons and fireflies
almost sublime as us
shaded by leaf and limb
you with horn, me with pen
churn A ‘fection, jazz and poem
into masterpiece you call
ain’t nothin’ sweet
like black hot creatures that pinch and sting
dank white mist like halos, hovering
dark piece of earth in the country
we twist, sing
songs written in clay, blues, and crooked roots
of an old shade tree
sucklin’ georgia sap
love me sum you
like fancy new hat and old shoes
wanna take off this dress so badly hurt and wear you
vexed in this brew like creole stew of whatchu do, what we do
but my feet ain’t for settlin’, i’m jus’ passin’ through
samplin’ sum-berry puddin’
when i think of what i love about the country
i might remember the oak trees live
longer than promises