By Robert Pinsky
Featured Image: Music by Thomas Wilmer Dewing 1895
This is the golden trophy. The true addiction.
Steel springs, pearl facings, fibers and leathers, all
Mounted on the body tarnished from neck to bell.
The master, a Legend, a “righteous addict,” pauses
While walking past a bar, to listen, says: Listen—
Listen what that cat in there is doing. Some figure,
Some hook, breathy honk, sharp nine or weird
Rhythm this one hack journeyman hornman had going.
Listen, says the Dante of bop, to what he’s working.
Breath tempered in its chamber by hide pads
As desires and demands swarm through the deft axe
In the fixed attention of that one practitioner:
Professional calluses and habits of his righteous
Teacher, his optician. The crazed matriarch, hexed
Architect of his making. Polished and punished by use,
The horn: flawed and severe, it nestles in plush,
The hard case contoured to cradle the engraved
Hook-shape of Normandy brass, keys from seashells
In the Mekong, reed from Belize. Listen. Labor:
Do all the altered scales in the woodshed. Persist,
You practiced addict, devotee, slave of Dante
Like Dante himself a slave, whose name they say
Is short for Durante, meaning Persistent—listen,
Bondsman of the tool—you honker, toker, toiler.
Robert Pinsky’s most recent books are Gulf Music, a book of poems, and Essential Pleasures, an anthology. He has performed readings of his poetry with jazz musicians including Ben Allison, VijayIyer, Mike Mainieri, Rakalam Bob Moses,and Stan Strickland, at venues including the Jazz Standard in New York and the Regattabar in Boston.
Originally published in NOR 2010.