That whole wet summer, I listened to Louis Armstrong.
Imagined him arriving in New York after Funky Butt
dance halls, wearing hick clothes: those
high top shoes with hooks, and long
underwear down to his socks.
Thought of him shy in a slick, new band, locked
for two weeks reading the part he was set,
until the night when Bailey on clarinet
took over an old song. Then Louis’ horn
rose in harsh, elated notes,
of phrases he’d invented on riverboats
and ratty blues tonks, using all the sinews
of his face and muscle of his tongue.
And what delights me now,
is when he grinned to thank
the crowd that stood to clap, and saw
slyly from the corner of his eye
all the stingy players in the band
were sitting motionless, their tribute
only an astonished sigh.
Thumbscrew No 15 (Winter/Spring 2000)