Lessons from Frank

from by Jill Battson

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Lessons from Frank

for Frank Morgan

When Frank said
put something of you in the place
he plunged me into a rest-of-the day funk
I could never be the jazz-loosened loose bone thing he is
the improv that jazz is all about
a conversation that moves across the stage
lightning moments between the instruments
as the response is rethought
the voice that jazz speaks
tell me in that voice

When Frank plays his horn
it’s like yesterday never happened
or tomorrow doesn’t need thinking about
the music is just there, his breath following the voice
his fingers squeezing the notes
melody he sees on his darkened retina
like nothing written and everything felt
when Frank says
Always leave room to do what’s in your heart
I feel squeezed like an exhalation of breath
like I cannot do what he does
even with my words

When Frank plays live
I am hearing the breathy intake of air beneath music
the tack of saliva between tongue and reed
a cushioned tap of brass keys
his life’s history in the metallic edge of methadone
I am hearing a life lived, a man learning
I am hearing Bird and Miles and Louis
in countless hotel rooms and back alleys, the weed urine aroma
when Frank says
I’m no good at taking care of myself
I remember Thelonius with his wife packing a cardboard suitcase
and Frank’s toffee skin, the reed leaning bottom teeth
I know it’s too late for me to live that life

When Frank’s music envelopes me
in 7am rising light, the Chamisa blooming in my breathing
I am driving up through mountains, along the high road past Chimayo
carried away with the salty extravagance of sound
the smooth quality of knowing one’s heart
remembrance of love lost and regained
a floating cushion of familiarity
and Frank’s notes breathing across a landscape serene
the modulated security of distance
when Frank says
All I want to do is rehearse my craft
I understand the need for selfishness
the quality of genius.


from gratitude songs, released June 17, 2013



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Jill Battson Toronto, Ontario

Jill Battson is an interdisciplinary poet. She has written several plays as well as the libretti for two operas and produced an electro acoustic sound art project. Dark Star Requiem, for which she wrote the libretto, premiered at Toronto’s Luminato Festival in 2010 and was published in book form. Her new collection, The Ecstatic Torture of Gratitude, was recently published by Guernica Editions ... more

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