Friday, September 13, 2013

"Circular Breathing" (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.

"Circular Breathing" appears in Michelle Castleberry's first collection of poems, Dissecting the Angel, to be published in October. 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 in Six Little Things, Umbrella, and The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature.  The poet's character studies are of family members, friends in tough places in need of helpful words, and muses of all kinds.  Her poems can be country-charming ("let me wrap you in a blanket / of kudzu and trumpet vine") and city-tough: "It takes a lot of man to be this pretty" is Castleberry's take on a Diane Arbus photograph of James Brown, 1966. "Woman on Fire" is an expansive meditation that begins in the burn unit at Herat, Afghanistan, and resolves into a psalm on strength and resilience. There's a connection between the poet's tangible world and poetic imagination; the Arkansas-born poet writes about a creative life with some grit to it, and sweat. "I have heard it breaking windows and furniture,"  she writes, "heard it making howls just beyond the door."

1 comment:

Charley Seagraves said...

Both the poem and the text are beautifully written