Sleep & Disorder
And what about this coffee? It’s as bitter as you could want, as strong, but sleep
xxxxxxis still a second-cousin, settling in for a long stint on the living room sofa,
Sleep, the unapologetic, the sulky codependent, the toll collector dozing while the
xxxxxxhonest traveller’s gate of horn backs up from here to Hudson,
And through the ivory portal, the false gate, the illusive and mendacious, all the EZ
xxxxxxPass holders pour through like lies on a talk show,
Forget it all, they urge, forget the elegant phrasing, the just word, just nod in
xxxxxxagreement, and whatever you say
Let it be as acid as newsprint or the ions rising from your screen as some bastard
xxxxxxlays it out again,
The line that’s just that, the rhyme slant as a graph, the carbon-steeled irony forged
xxxxxxand capped and traded, by which I mean
Given away: all that our enlightenment, all our progress and our verse had thought
xxxxxxto save from bad or worse, so much smoke from the tailpipe
Of that diesel blocking the lane or revving up the grade or downshifting for a pit stop
xxxxxor whatever else keeps the show on the road,
The radio playing Sweet Dreams again between the static where the signals fade.
The smell of Islay whiskey, sharp sea air, iodine and cold
Spray smoking over rocks. With that in my head, I don’t care much
About the crazed varnish, about the old bow’s thinning hair.
Just this sudden brightness in the fine part of the tune,
That would be worth singing about, if it weren’t already song.
The sun a disc of beaten bronze, as dull
As the late dusk moon was bright,
And summer is overripe, the downward pull
Of green limbs under their apples’ weight.
An old man scratches at a song (the harp
His voice was once upturned, unstrung),
The scribbled, etched-out lines have wrapped,
Poor vines, a ladder, broken-runged,
The pickers leant against a tree to rot,
All that’s left of his knowledge now,
That once he climbed in praise, forgotten,
Who burned his fingers on her brow.
Who Would Have Thought the Saxophone
xxxxffor Charles Lloyd
In the high school band room, the sax section runs over their parts, no breath,
xxxxxxjust fingers on the fine-tooled keys,
Clump and clack of pads and brass, a pure early modern mechanics, Adam Smith’s
xxxxxxpin makers laboring
In service of a great music of commerce, each silent and intent, as a century passes
xxxxxxlike nothing, like a fife tune,
And somewhere a march is stirring, somewhere someone imagines a reedy, gut-
Undercutting the splendid assurance of the cornet, honking at the euphonium’s
xxxxxxplatitudes, and as always,
Although the argument is efficiency and the underwriters (Fokker, Enfield) smart
xxxxxxin parade dress,
There is always more at stake: the airman’s barrel roll for the pleasure of the
xxxxxxcivilians on the ground before the strafing, the infantryman’s poems jammed
xxxxxxin his haversack,
Then Bechet’s soprano, then the massed sax sections of swing, the cutting
xxxxxxsessions, the aspirants and acolytes,
Trying out their fingerings at a side table at the club, Chicago, a couple of
xxxxxxwhite guys in plaid and khaki cheering from the sidelines;
In a cottage on Milvia Street in Berkeley, the click and clatter of typewriter
And at Big Sur, an old man with a horn under his arm has walked a little further into
xxxxxxthe scrub where the trail dodges back from the cliff
Considering that long paradox of infinite division. Who would have thought the
xxxxxxbroken might contrive such beauty.
Who would have thought the saxophone might be one voice of god.
You Can’t Have Too Many Poems About Coffee
It’s the bitterness you want each morning, waking, thirsty, to drive away the
xxxxxxsentiment, the dreams of charity, of comity,
You know what they’re like: the reciprocal bartering in the souk below the outer
xxxxxxwalls, the market town with the cobbled, stall-lined street leading
xxxxxxdownhill to the river, all those interdependencies,
And the worn prayer wheels of the monasteries, the raising of the rope bridge
xxxxxxacross the chasm, the whole National Geographic panoply of other-
xxxxxxworldliness and good intentions.
Let the acid in the brew stave them off as you sit at the breakfast table, let the ice in
xxxxxxthe trees along the boulevard snap the branches clean before anyone heeds
Your day belongs to the formalities of calculation and conveyance; your place is the
xxxxxxQuarter of None, the clock poised always at the point of the contract’s
You would not walk out in this cold with anything but the warmest overcoat, with
xxxxxxanything like regret in your mind; you would turn nostalgia from your office
xxxxxxdoor and send him packing, the eager scrivener
With his letters of reference from your threadbare friends back in the provinces.
xxxxxxYou would tighten your scarf and your double-breasted greatcoat and grab
xxxxxxtwo sticks of good oak,
One to stir the fires along greed’s margin, that strict and narrow path, and another
xxxxxxto tap your ashy way down the ledger’s decline,
Back to those outer regions, where traders and monks sit over their steaming
xxxxxxcups, and if you don’t know their language, at least you can accept their offer
Of tea, sweet with honey, cardamom. At least you can acknowledge the bitter
xxxxxxdrought that waking is
Jordan Smith is the author of seven books of poems, most recently Clare’s Empire, a fantasia on the life and work of John Clare from The Hydroelectric Press, and The Light in the Film, The Names of Things Are Leaving, and For Appearances, all from the University of Tampa Press. The recipient of grants from the Guggenheim and Ingram Merrill Foundations, he lives in upstate New York, plays fiddle and flute, and teaches at Union College.
“Fiddler’s Dram” — perfect and glorious.
These are wonderful, Jordan – a pleasure to read and reread and think about. Glad to see them here in Numero Cinq.
“…the bitter drought that waking is” Love it.