Thursday, April 19, 2012

National Poetry Month: Michelle Castleberry

"Circular Breathing"

(Michelle Castleberry)

I get to pick the warm-up tonight,

so it’s “All Blues,” my favorite Miles.

The bass player starts too slow,

and before I come in he whispers,

“You’ll suffocate, C.,” and smiles.

Thinks he’s smart cause

bassists don’t have to breathe.

At least not to make their

high-strung wooden girls sing.

They only use fingers and bows

to sift sound from the air.

I don’t care.

Got the perfect reed tonight.

I love all the sounds that

no one else can hear—

the cat tongue rasp as I wet my Rico #4.

The “peck, pock, poke” of shutting

the right hand keys of my horn.

That second of wind before

the vibration catches in the reed

and falls down the brass.

That bass player can

Kiss. My. Ass.

We call the drummer Take, and he

stirs the dry snare head with brushes.

Jim burbles a low trill while he eyes

a clot of drunk college boys. He hushes

them with a mean, mean face

while his trumpet snarls.

Then he nods to me, inviting:

“C’mon, now.”

I pick up the melody, like a mama

with a baby, gentle and firm.

Eyes closed.

This is not a skill as much as

something that my body knows.

I turn the tune in my lungs and mouth,

into my horn and then out.

Through the smoke rings that float stage-side.

The fratties are gentled now, just ponies

with full bellies, still and open-mouthed.

I look at the bassist as I hold the final note,

watch his eyes water before I ever need to blink,

before I look for eyes in the crowd, thirsty to drink

what I pour and pour and pour for them.

MICHELLE CASTLEBERRY is from Hermitage, Arkansas. Currently her words and C-sax playing frequently grace poetry and music stages in Athens, Georgia. She was the featured reader at Athens Word of Mouth (March 2012), and her work has appeared as well in Six Little Things, Umbrella, and The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature. Her writing focuses on character studies, often with Biblical reference points; her performance of "Lot's Wife" and other poems can be heard on SoundCloud and on WUGA-FM's Wordland program. She is currently finishing her first chapbook, The Desire Line.

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