Ode To John Coltrane - Poem by Gary Witt
The cabbie wore his Kangol back,
Reversed; it looked like a beret;
Bohemian but still respectable.
His left eye, clouded, milky, never moved,
His right, pale blue and crystalline,
Watched the world and pierced it to its soul.
The radio played twilight jazz:
Ruby My Dear, but way too soft to hear
Monk’s cascading, casual trademark riff.
And when the Monk was done it segued-
A quiet rat-a-tat of opening snare,
Gentle brushed high-hat,
Squiggly soprano sax: India.
I smiled and asked the driver please
To turn it up a half a notch.
He grinned, and started in.
“Coltrane…yeah, I swear…
Saw him in Copenhagen, I was twenty.
Changed my life in two short hours.
You know, when you learn a language
You study… grammar, syntax, sound.
Otherwise you just don't get it...
It just sits there, all gibberish.
“Well, same here, ” he said.
“You learn Coltrane’s language on the run,
You chase the Trane, there’s no other way.
That night he played notes I’d never imagined;
Mashed up phrasing, long gravelly moans
In a musical mode that felt totally alien.
And I sat there drinking Danish beer,
Letting the music wash over me,
Trying to get it all, missing half of what
He was saying with that horn of his.
That mind blender—made of brass
With the mother-of-pearl keys.
“His music’s like…a gemstone on fire, like a
Tourmaline or sapphire that you see, you swear you see
Spontaneously combust in green or blue flame.
Like riding on a charging rhinoceros
That suddenly isn’t there any more, because
It’s become a swan. Like being transported
To a distant, chaotic world where nothing makes sense,
But everything everywhere is somehow logical.
And you know you’re going to die eventually
But you no longer care, you just don’t care
Because you’ve been lifted above the clouds
And you can see, you can feel, you can hear. Really hear.
New language. New thinking. New clarity. Everything new.
“When you walk away from it you suddenly realize
It’s changed you in a fundamental way.
You have a different sense of equilibrium.
You’ll never see things the same.
You’ll never think of things the same.
You’ll never dream the same.”
I nodded because I understood exactly
Every word. Knew too
That words were inadequate, but
They were all we had;
Knew that if asked
He’d agree they could never suffice.
He shut off the meter and we sat parked by the curb,
Listening to India, not saying a word.
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