Poetry

by Rachel M. Harper
Citation
Title:
Poetry
Author:
Rachel M. Harper
Year: 
1999
Publication: 
African American Review
Volume: 
33
Issue: 
3
Start Page: 
482
End Page: 
483
Publisher: 
Language: 
English
URL: 
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DOI: 
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ISSN: 
Abstract:

Rachel M. Harper lives in Providence, Rhode Island.

482

Bass

in memory of Jimmy Garrison

Sometimes I wish my fingers were thick enough to play you. Knuckles in a claw, bow discarded at my feet, I'd pluck the melody with bare hands, savor the smooth slide along trembling steel coils, lips drawn to mouth your music, lyrical groans released like birds into the dark and heavy air. I tower over the mahogany frame, left arm draped across a cool shoulder, thumb cocked to pound out trigger notes, vulnerability masked in a varnished coat too slick for my sweat to penetrate.

By the end of the session I succumb to the weight, sit on a stool with your hollow body tucked between my knees and lean in neck to neck. Head bowed, I strum with an open hand too numb to feel the difference, the slowing tempo in the echo of your cry; sometimes I wish my woman was wood.

The Myth of Music for my father

If music can be passed on like brown eyes or a strong left hook, this melody

African American Review, Volume 33, Number 3 0 1999 Rachel M. Harper

is my inheritance, lineage traced
through a title track,
displayed on an album cover
that you pin to the wall
as art, oral history taught
on a record player, the lessons
sealed into the grooves like fact.
This is the only myth I know.

I sit on the hardwood
floors of a damp November,
my brother dealing cards
from an incomplete deck,
and I don't realize that this
moment is the definition
of family, collective memory
cut in rough-textured tones,
the voice of a horn so familiar
I don't know I'm listening,
don't know I'm singing,
a child's improvisation
of Giant Steps or Impressions:
songs without lyrics
can still be sung.

In six months, when my mother
is 2,000 miles away, deciding
if she wants to come home,
I will have forgotten
this moment, the security
of her footsteps, the warmth
of a radiator on my back, and you
present in the sound of typing
your own accompaniment,
multiphonics disguised as chords
in a distant room, speakers set
on high to fill the whole house
with your spirit, your call
as a declaration of love.

But the music will remain.
The timeless notes of jazz
too personal to play out loud,
stay locked in the rhythm
of my childhood, memories fading
like the words of a lullaby,
come to life in a saxophone's blow.
They lie when they say
music is universal-this is my song,
the notes like fingerprints
as delicate as breath.
I will not share this air
with anyone
but you.

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