Saturday, September 14, 2013

The Invention of the Saxophone: take two

Blogger's note. God knows how many years ago, I was standing around in a book store leafing through a book of poems by Billy Collins. I found this amazing poem about saxophones, almost forgot it, then tried years later to find it on the net. No sign of it. As so often happens, I had to go back years later to find it, and by then I had done the unthinkable: written my own poem, which likely has unconscious echoes of the Collins poem. Unconscious, not because I was unconscious when I wrote it, but because I only read the Collins poem once in haste before the store clerk glared me out of the place. Do I need to tell you that the Collins' poem makes me want to stop writing forever?

The Invention of the Saxophone by Billy Collins

          It was Adolph Sax, remember,
          not Saxo Grammaticus, who gets the ovation.
          And by the time he had brought all the components
          together-- the serpentine shape, the single reed,
          the fit of the fingers,
          the upward tilt of the golden bell--
          it was already 1842, and one gets the feeling
          it was also very late at night.

          There is something nocturnal about the sound,
          something literally horny,
          as some may have noticed on that historic date
          when the first odd notes wobbled out of his studio
          into the small, darkened town,

          summoning the insomniacs (who were up
          waiting for the invention of jazz) to their windows,
          but leaving the sleepers undisturbed,
          even deepening and warming the waters of their dreams.

          For this is not the valved instrument of waking,
          more the smoky voice of longing and loss,
          the porpoise cry of the subconscious.
          No one would ever think of blowing reveille
          on a tenor without irony.
          The men would only lie in their metal bunks,
          fingers twined behind their heads,
          afloat on pools of memory and desire.

          And when the time has come to rouse the dead,
          you will not see Gabriel clipping an alto
          around his numinous neck.
          An angel playing the world's last song
          on a glistening saxophone might be enough
          to lift them back into the light of earth,
          but really no farther.

          Once resurrected, they would only lie down
          in the long cemetary grass
          or lean alone against a lugubrious yew
          and let the music do the ascending--
          curling snakes charmed from their baskets--
          while they wait for the shrill trumpet solo,
          that will blow them all to kingdom come


i don’t know who invented this
reflexive question mark of an instrument

but i think it was a good thing

for it’s great to look at,
with fat keys like frog eyes
and a big bell like royal jelly
you could keep flowers in there if you wanted to,
extra socks
or even a clock

Snakes kink too
and this sound is snakey
purply mauve as the deepest bruise
and raunchy
as a man in love

smoked as some cat of the night
disappearing over a fence
it makes leaps
(but only because it has to)

There is no
morning saxophone

this is a sound that
pulls the shades down

a hangover
fading to twilight
or the blackmost
of the night

Few can wrap their lips around
this gooseneck
without some harm coming to them
for this is an instrument
with a long history of
hollowing out
all but the most hardy

Bird flew into a pane
of glass and was

we don’t know why it does this to people
(maybe it was mad at him
for taking it all to such extremes)

but how could you blow this thing

i ask you

how could you rear back
in some great pained whiplash of the spine
without a sense of
terrible commitment

i never much cared for
saxophones myself
until i heard one blown correctly at last
jazz is a genre i will never understand
but perhaps that’s good
for like the priesthood, one must enter into it

without question

or doubt

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