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In Praise of Flair

Elaine Feinstein

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)