Mingus at the Showplace, by William Matthews

I was miserable, of course, for I was seventeen,
and so I swung into action and wrote a poem,

and it was miserable, for that was how I thought
poetry worked: you digested experience and shat

literature. It was 1960 at The Showplace, long since
defunct, on West 4th St., and I sat at the bar,

casting beer money from a thin reel of ones,
the kid in the city, big ears like a puppy.

And I knew Mingus was a genius. I knew two
other things, but they were wrong, as it happened.

So I made him look at the poem.
“There’s a lot of that going around,” he said,

and Sweet Baby Jesus he was right. He laughed
amiably. He didn’t look as if he thought

bad poems were dangerous, the way some poets do.
If they were baseball executives they’d plot

to destroy sandlots everywhere so that the game
could be saved from children. Of course later

that night he fired his pianist in mid-number
and flurried him from the stand.

“We’ve suffered a diminuendo in personnel,”
he explained, and the band played on.

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Painting by Moonlight, by Medbh McGuckian

It was a bright inviting, freely formed,
though I suppose it was I who brightened,
with an internal scattering of light,
as though weather maps were more real
than the breath of autumn.

The low colourfulness
of the broken and dying leaves
was no embrittlement
to every decided colour on the sunlighted grass
and the warm-hued wood of his door.

But with the dust descending
in the glaring white gap
my backbone pulped and I closed up
like a concertina.

His tongue was hushed as Christ’s lips
or once-red grapes permitting
each touch to spread only
when the turn of the violet comes.