What did I think, a storm clutching a clarinet
and boarding a downtown bus, headed for lessons?
I had pieces to learn by heart, but at twelve
you think the heart and memory are different.
“‘It’s a poor sort of memory that only works
backwards,’ the Queen remarked.” Alice in Wonderland.
Although I knew the way music can fill a room,
even with loneliness, which is of course a kind
of company. I could swelter through an August
afternoon—torpor rising from the river—and listen
to Stan Getz and J. J. Johnson braid variations
on “My Funny Valentine” and feel there in the room
with me the force and weight of what I couldn’t
say. What’s an emotion anyhow?
Lassitude and sweat lay all about me
like a stubble field, it was so hot and listless,
hut I was quick and furtive as a fox
who has his thirty-miles-a-day metabolism
to burn off as ordinary business.
I had about me, after all, the bare eloquence
of the becalmed, the plain speech of the leafless
tree. I had the cunning of my body and a few
bars—they were enough—of music. Looking back,
it almost seems as though I could remember—
but this can’t be; how could I bear it?—
the future toward which I’d clatter
with that boy tied like a bell around my throat,
a brave man and a coward both,
to break and break my metronomic heart
and just enough to learn to love the blues.
William Matthews