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Lisa Goodman

Sitting on a Couch with an Absent Jazzman

(Dedicated to Art Pepper)

When Pepper played beware of sorrow—

catch you tapping with surprise

He blew a life found locked in sound

he sang the time go by.


A mystery of mind in Art

caged behind a note

                        he wrote on white walls with his nails he

                        scratched on a script of sax-in-smoke hot-

                        licked the cell where he laid it all to life.


When Pepper played from way down under,

touching bottoms not perceived

under covers tight-shade-curtains

red-chinz flowered fifties-chic


women turned their hats in wonder

scotch-numbed throats like ice he slid,

fingered parts your mama said no

not to cry in public.


                        I sit on blue and nod agreements,

                        seeing what I used to hear

                        fifteen years found him the freedom

                        run me backwards this place spent,

                        scared the moods will send me screaming


                        of attempted explanations lie

                        about the man now cold; so

                        hot-stopped, jammed-packed, now survives

                        the late-night talkshow jazzed-up jives

                        of men who did not know his pride.

                        (I cannot claim I did.)


Sweat made sweet

the vibrant night

sound like baby-bottom smell

he played the truth with storm behind it

soothing me with lullabies in lies

the velvet-voiced man says

“no one can still the mystery of Art.”

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