There is music
in old men’s hands, when sounds together
come to hush the caesura,
like an old photograph torn years ago
and now wanting its memory back,
a dermis stretching to help scar the cut
as goat skins over drums in Africa,
music yet to be born until then, born the way
he filled that bar with it,
a stream of altos that had suddenly entered the hall together.
Low-flying. But what had that music to do with us
to require all of this? For afterwards,
his fingers flew, or seemed to fly,
surprising every key in its sleep with a kiss,
a bright roughness that was proof he was touching
only the tops of most keys, like removing a bad heart
to keep it from going worse, to avoid
having to give it spinach and pills, removing it
so it won’t wither again like before.
His surgical fingers were prey fleeing a predator,
and they flew to the roof of the smoky room in one despair;
from my table just then I saw it, saw it as if it had been there
all the while, circling like a hunted child with wings,
love dressed in a mauve cape, going after
the broken-hearted of the world,
cape flapping like a hurt wing,
and though the coloured girls giggling in the back
and swaying to jazz like they were having sex already,
did not see it at all, and kept saying with nameless tongues
to the man hunched over his piano on the stage,
to now play some of the rebel sounds they’d started liking:
kwaito music, I knew I wasn’t hallucinating despite
the whisky I’d already poured down my throat,
and this to me somehow said that these same women,
dressed in killer jeans, always chain smoking,
wouldn’t stop to love me, if I were the last man in there.
This I knew. Still I wanted to get the attention of the one
with peeking boobs and in Sesotho try to chat her up
into loving me, the same way I loved the breasts on her.
Commentary by the poet:
“There is music” did not start with that line. It started with the jeans-clad girls. I have seen such girls, always happy, always enticing. And sometimes when no dancing partners were available, they’d go ahead and dance with each other.
I always wanted to talk to them, though generally I was younger. Who are they? Where are they from? What do they like? They fascinated me, but I never approached them for reasons unknown even to me.
As a kid growing up in Lesotho, music was everything and could be heard in every matatu-style taxi, shebeen and even among herdboys out in the fields tending their cattle. Mothers sang as they worked, and the babies on their backs got a good start in music appreciation. Music at weddings, political funerals, football matches… in short, we used music to communicate every feeling. The piano player in this poem however comes from my meeting with American blues and jazz when I was a teenager in high-school: Duke Ellington and Thelonius Monk, the South-African pianist Abdullah Ibrahim. When they played, it seemed like they were communicating with a deity or with something unseen by the common listener.
The longing I have for those days and for the bustle of Africa complete the picture. The poem moved from the girls and introduced the other elements which constitute the beginning lines. Poems such as this one help keep me connected to my roots, they are my way of baring what I feel at any given moment, and they mostly written as they come, giving up the whole poem in a short time, to be touched up and revised later with hindsight. But usually the kernel of the poem, what I call the initial spurt or rush, remains. There is music is one such a poem. I cannot close without thanking Michelle for being kind enough to post it. Thank you, Michelle. I am eternally grateful. And thank you also for your interest in my blog, Poéfrika, where the poem first appeared. It was then picked up by The Bastille, N°2, a Paris journal. It will be part of my second book, tentatively named Waslap, soon to be published by Canopic Publishing in the USA.
I love this poet’s poetry — there is no other way to say it. He is careful with words, memories and sentiments. Never too much — just enough to transport me to a geographic locale, a small gathering, a moment between two people or an examination of something that resists our full understanding. His poetry contains an honesty that draws me in, and the words dancing on the page keep me there.
Today I am still reeling from the news that a good friend has died in a motorcycle accident in Washington state. Today I am thinking of the ways life balances, the way small things matter, the way small connections are the very things that show us light. My friend John was a sailor and wood carver, a motorcycle enthusiast and a man brimming over with an inquisitive nature and joy. Beloved father and husband, fierce lover of humans and all their foibles. A man who noticed and cared for the small precious things while living life to its grandest.
I know John would have loved this poem, too — from the opening line to the dancing breasts of those women at the end.
Thank you, Rethabile Masilo, for sending me your poetry for this day — not realising what it would mean to me.
Remembering music, remembering John. These things go hand-in-hand for me.
About the poet: Rethabile Masilo blogs at Poéfrika, “a green weblog of creative, Africa-inspired writing. Celebrating heroes and family”. His first book, Things That Are Silent (Pindrop Press), was published in June 2012. He’s a regular contributor to the Tuesday Poem series and his work can be found in various journals.
Tuesday Poem is a collective of poets who share poetry on a weekly basis across borders and time zones. At the TP hub this week, you’ll find ‘Tuatara’ by Nola Borrell, posted by Hub Editor Janice Freegard, plus poems by the various TP collective members. Look down the left-hand sidebar and click on each one to see their weekly contributions.
For more Tuesday Poems, go here.