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Call It Music - Poem by Philip Levine

Some days I catch a rhythm, almost a song
in my own breath. I'm alone here
in Brooklyn Heights, late morning, the sky
above the St. George Hotel clear, clear
for New York, that is. The radio playing
"Bird Flight," Parker in his California
tragic voice fifty years ago, his faltering
"Lover Man" just before he crashed into chaos.
I would guess that outside the recording studio
in Burbank the sun was high above the jacarandas,
it was late March, the worst of yesterday's rain
had come and gone, the sky washed blue. Bird
could have seen for miles if he'd looked, but what
he saw was so foreign he clenched his eyes,
shook his head, and barked like a dog--just once--
and then Howard McGhee took his arm and assured him
he'd be OK. I know this because Howard told me
years later that he thought Bird could
lie down in the hotel room they shared, sleep
for an hour or more, and waken as himself.
The perfect sunlight angles into my little room
above Willow Street. I listen to my breath
come and go and try to catch its curious taste,
part milk, part iron, part blood, as it passes
from me into the world. This is not me,
this is automatic, this entering and exiting,
my body's essential occupation without which
I am a thing. The whole process has a name,
a word I don't know, an elegant word not
in English or Yiddish or Spanish, a word
that means nothing to me. Howard truly believed
what he said that day when he steered
Parker into a cab and drove the silent miles
beside him while the bright world
unfurled around them: filling stations, stands
of fruits and vegetables, a kiosk selling trinkets
from Mexico and the Philippines. It was all
so actual and Western, it was a new creation
coming into being, like the music of Charlie Parker
someone later called "glad," though that day
I would have said silent, "the silent music
of Charlie Parker." Howard said nothing.
He paid the driver and helped Bird up two flights
to their room, got his boots off, and went out
to let him sleep as the afternoon entered
the history of darkness. I'm not judging
Howard, he did better than I could have
now or then. Then I was 19, working
on the loading docks at Railway Express
coming day by day into the damaged body
of a man while I sang into the filthy air
the Yiddish drinking songs my Zadie taught me
before his breath failed. Now Howard is gone,
eleven long years gone, the sweet voice silenced.
"The subtle bridge between Eldridge and Navarro,"
they later wrote, all that rising passion
a footnote to others. I remember in '85
walking the halls of Cass Tech, the high school
where he taught after his performing days,
when suddenly he took my left hand in his
two hands to tell me it all worked out
for the best. Maybe he'd gotten religion,
maybe he knew how little time was left,
maybe that day he was just worn down
by my questions about Parker. To him Bird
was truly Charlie Parker, a man, a silent note
going out forever on the breath of genius
which now I hear soaring above my own breath
as this bright morning fades into afternoon.
Music, I'll call it music. It's what we need
as the sun staggers behind the low gray clouds
blowing relentlessly in from that nameless ocean,
the calm and endless one I've still to cross.


Comments about Call It Music by Philip Levine

  • Bronze Star - 2,847 Points Alexander Julian (5/30/2017 11:42:00 PM)

    This poem is simple yet so intrinsic and very natural. Just good old honesty. (Report) Reply

    0 person liked.
    0 person did not like.
  • Gold Star - 113,980 Points Bernard F. Asuncion (5/30/2017 7:08:00 PM)

    From Mexico and the Philipoines.... Thanks for posting.... (Report) Reply

  • Gold Star - 307,827 Points Edward Kofi Louis (5/30/2017 11:23:00 AM)

    This is not me! ! Thanks for sharing this poem with us. (Report) Reply

Read all 6 comments »

Poems About Music

  1. 1. I Am In Need Of Music , Elizabeth Bishop
  2. 2. Dirge Without Music , Edna St. Vincent Millay
  3. 3. Celestial Music , Louise Gluck
  4. 4. I Know The Music , Wilfred Owen
  5. 5. Ancient Music , Ezra Pound
  6. 6. Music , Walter de la Mare
  7. 7. Broken Music , Dante Gabriel Rossetti
  8. 8. Music, When Soft Voices Die , Percy Bysshe Shelley
  9. 9. Music Swims Back To Me , Anne Sexton
  10. 10. What Is Music To You? , Sylvia Chidi
  11. 11. We Are The Music-Makers , Arthur William Edgar O'Shaug ..
  12. 12. (1) Before The Music Ends , Sandra Fowler
  13. 13. Music , Rainer Maria Rilke
  14. 14. Sonnet 128: How Oft, When Thou, My Music.. , William Shakespeare
  15. 15. Bagpipe Music , Louis Macneice
  16. 16. Music , Frank O'Hara
  17. 17. Call It Music , Philip Levine
  18. 18. At A Solemn Music , John Milton
  19. 19. April Music , s./j. goldner
  20. 20. Sonnet 8: Music To Hear, Why Hear'st Tho.. , William Shakespeare
  21. 21. That Music Always Round Me , Walt Whitman
  22. 22. Words For Music Perhaps , William Butler Yeats
  23. 23. The Music , Kathryn Thompson
  24. 24. To Music , Rainer Maria Rilke
  25. 25. Alexander's Feast; Or, The Power Of Music , John Dryden
  26. 26. From Spring Days To Winter (For Music) , Oscar Wilde
  27. 27. Church Music , George Herbert
  28. 28. On Music , Thomas Moore
  29. 29. The Choir And Music Of Solitude And Sile.. , Delmore Schwartz
  30. 30. Away With Funeral Music , Robert Louis Stevenson
  31. 31. Music I Heard , Conrad Potter Aiken
  32. 32. Music , Wilfred Owen
  33. 33. Secret Music , Siegfried Sassoon
  34. 34. Better—than Music! For I—who Heard It , Emily Dickinson
  35. 35. Italian Music In Dakota , Walt Whitman
  36. 36. Music , .Pd. is here
  37. 37. Proud Music Of The Storm , Walt Whitman
  38. 38. War Music [down On Your Knees, Achilles] , Christopher Logue
  39. 39. Song And Music , Dante Gabriel Rossetti
  40. 40. There Is A Lady Sweet And Kind, Thomas F.. , Anonymous
  41. 41. Perplexed Music , Elizabeth Barrett Browning
  42. 42. Master Of Music , Henry Van Dyke
  43. 43. Water Music , Robert Creeley
  44. 44. Five For Country Music , Lisel Mueller
  45. 45. ! ! Impressionism In Paint, In Music, In.. , Michael Shepherd
  46. 46. Music , Arthur Seymour John Tessimond
  47. 47. Music: An Ode , Algernon Charles Swinburne
  48. 48. Sing -- Sing -- Music Was Given , Thomas Moore
  49. 49. War-Music , Henry Van Dyke
  50. 50. Music To Me Is Like Days , Les Murray
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