ARTicle Magazine

Piano time with Monk

28 August 2016

Jazz and romantic longing run through the veins of this poem from John Dickson's first collection in nearly 20 years.

Mister Hamilton cover

Mister Hamilton by John Dickson (Auckland University Press, $24.99).

Piano time with Monk


Sixty-three

sixty-four

whatever the year

I was walking home from the Monk concert

and this guy

who knew everything anyone could know

about playing tenor sax

was telling me and his girlfriend

with her beautiful slow eyes

what was wrong

with Charlie Rouse’s solo

on ’Round Midnight.


Far too long

man

too many repeated phrases

too little invention

his mouth full

of flatted fifths

diatonic scales

triads

seconds

complete variations

on his own intervals.

And for all I knew

maybe the guy

who knew everything anyone could know

about playing tenor sax

maybe the guy was right

maybe he breathed

such tone scales of big words

such complex variations

so as to scare off

no talent guys like me

who wouldn’t know

a dissonant second

from the beautiful slow eyes

of his girlfriend.


You see

in sixty-three

in sixty-four

whatever the year

my love was simple

I had no idea of how

to represent simple figures

while displacing them

subtly

with rhythmic values

with touch

I’d spend Saturday afternoons

listening to Lee Morgan

or Clifford Brown

or the Adderley brothers

Cannonball and Nat

and drinking quart bottles

of Waikato Four Star 

straight no chaser

but I knew

that the guy who knew everything

that anyone could possibly know about playing sax

wasn’t Charlie Rouse blowing solo

because Mister Monk’s gone shambled

to have a piss offstage

or maybe another slug of cognac

after fifteen minutes

even the guy who knew everything

would blow too many notes

and for far too long.


And Rouse

soaked in sweat

breathing out his lungs

and shaking all over

and stumbling in

from behind his black curtain

here’s Mister Monk

carrying in his touch

a simple tonal idea

he helps Rouse out

by touching the keyboard

plink

and then walking around the piano

to come back

plung

he may as well have said

Don’t worry 

Charlie

we’ve got the rest

of our lives to play.


Sixty-four

sixty-three

whatever the year

when I was there in George Street

and floating from the Monk concert

and this guy

who knew with all his words

how to play tenor sax

was telling me and his girlfriend

what was wrong

with Charlie Rouse’s solo

on ’Round Midnight

when he turned up London Street

homewards to his flat

taking with him

his flatted fifths

his diatonic scales

and his girlfriend too

with those beautiful eyes

I was somewhere else

and loving it

in the chord of PLINK.


And a year later

’round midnight

here’s the girlfriend 

with her steady slow eyes

suggesting her call and response

and my voice

its usual nervous light baritone

going far too deep

with far too little invention

with too many flat fives

like the guy who knew

everything anybody could ever know

about playing tenor sax,

and she touched my lips

slowing my mouth down

We’ve all night to play

she said.


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