Ghost Notes [excerpt]
for Danny Fletcher
I. Call and Response 1 Plumbline of disaster, shadow storage of the way thought travels, the opinion, the sentiment, only assertion following silence, only a way of everlasting breathing, a verb searching for grammar too devoted to making sense so that the self interrupts with a final pitch. From stop to stop the mouth makes music by holding sound in a razz mixed with spit, air pushing through idea to a new phrase, followed by a chill, then riding on the other air. So the moment might live outside itself, lips vibrate against the mouthpiece of the horn, the face blooms in concentration, the idea of interval. 2 Anoint the valves, they stick -- my it is bright when you bring out your trumpet William, standing there, tapping your right foot, bent like a cricket at the knee, slouching. Whoever hears your Ode to Joy hears your knocking then setting down of carrying case, cradling of brass. Dizzy said it took his whole life to learn what not to play but in one month you deny nothing, not even the feel of your embouchere, who'd been in school all day. Lubricate the valves, once neighbors lifted up their heads like lilies in the field, and wind rolled over the need to stay away. 3 It's beauty people fear, bright rose riding on Aunt Billie's forehead, the way light makes green everything after her pickled okra, stubble in the hands of day labor, callouses of a parade of things and touching them without seeing or hearing without knowledge, dumbstruck by a brooding need to define or look without a place to grieve, beauty and not faith in truth in the light of justice -- just reach and nothing's there but what's there already. 4 William -- where -- is -- your -- horn, did you leave it in math class again with Fibonacci's sequence, flaring bell, flex and curve in sunlight leaning at a forty-five degree angle, your teacher Mr. Fletcher having cranked open the classroom window with an allen wrench, merged with sunlight so a horsefly wheeled blue-green in its own wingbeat by a rote it answered to in music, lesser to the greater as the greater to the whole, tube twice bent on itself, Sin curve on the line of displacement, sending sound backwards until it's now? 5 William, when thirty kids try out for basketball calculate the odds, the tendency of mind to see itself in transition -- feminine green light like call waiting -- you might be playing trumpet into the speaker, your girlfriend Corrine might be listening, exhausting her telephone allotment of fifteen minutes, holding her ear inches away, glint of a clipboard watching you both. You might move out of the paint. The yellow squeak of rubber on oak wakes rivers of grain -- what does it matter that this matter jumps back or breaks for open court -- sometimes you only stand and scream, wave both arms, put it on the floor and drive, lay it up, put it down, take it home. 6 Let me find the keys says Candace let's go says William the water nibbles at the bank sunlight shafts the fog wait says Candace clouds back off the water what else the boat suspended glint gray along the gunnels here they are I've found them the washing machine idles in its cycle sun shattered in water slaps let's go says William the legs follow the surface tension the door closes the car starts the green wave slides under the boat a day begins. 7 Slow it down, bring it down, bring it on home, tympanum of the trumpet- flower, raised hood, swollen yellow face, pathological woe standing in rank grass against the Hurricane fence, half a brick bewildered, half carried through slatted shadows, cracked bell shrouded by buildings, doorways listening, patiently waiting for someone to open a paper bag and bring out the horn and this one time it sounds exactly like laughter, wind blows in your face, from a high window in metallic light long green trumpets beat back rain. 8 When the instruments linger in the band room, snare leaning into itself, tuba beached against green cinderblock, do they riff where a fault opens, make a crazy line in space, does brass lie in bronze alloy, does longing breathe in acoustic energy? Notes hang to the skirt of the bell like a city of light for a moment. A tire spooks the gravel, you hear talk about the weather, the leaning toward and then away. Pierce the blind to better hear the music, the fall of each sound and pause between. 9 It damages people when they do not understand the healing power of friendship. I am damaged. The left front light of my transport is out. A day doesn't pass. An hour does not go by. There are minutes that glow in human flesh. A trumpet has a voice. A place lives in music of people and time. These are not things I know. Things of the air are also not thought of in time of need. That is why the passive voice is so active in distortion, and well to note that a slur is more expressive than a sharp note timed to surface admiration, though the fool in me shines to perfection. 10 Soft percussive no-look pass of summer, flexion of bell, white seed of longing and forgetfulness -- I remember stopping on the way home from school at a car showroom, perching on vinyl I could smell thinking I don't belong here and the place about to close. I hold the page of music so you can see it, William, your face reddens, your foot taps eight times to push breath past unbelievable seconds, a dandelion head floats out of sight senseless and alive, full of feather and plume, empty to itself wherever it flies, drifting from its own heart. 11 The dog growls, a low unearthed intent stands up on back of the neck -- I am here and somewhere else -- back in time maybe, fingers tap the valves. Make two trumpets of silver Yahweh said to Moses -- and make them play flat and sharp notes at the same time said Ornette Coleman, no loose lipping. Wake the memory. Wake the present tense. The tongue wicks the mouthpiece. Horripilates the cause. Lights up the argument. A column of air moving through an empty place, three stops, an opening outward toward no purpose or proof beyond the time when people will not hear it. 12 My father's there. Like fugitive dust seeping through cracks and keyholes in Oklahoma in the early 30's. What happens when I try to hold him is my arms pass through air. Goodbye goodbye to the river and to green metallic leaves. I leave the darkness which sat on my shoulders for love talk and grace of music. Still, there are strains of darkness dear to light. I found a photograph under the couch. My father barbecuing chicken with his shirt off, skin brown as a berry. Grinning from the other side. Into the lens. Of light and song. II. Shout Trumpet 1 When passing the Trumpet in Zion Church, red brick soaked with morning rain, four cars parked on slickened blacktop, marked yellow lines, redbud clusters, heart-shaped lavender pods, I keep hearing my own minor key. Even so, a person puts a thumb out, an awning cantilevers, traffic comes to a rolling stop. Through an open window high bright notes clarify the air back to March wind, locked doors, to those who have lost their love, decided to go and not come back: the high C of incalculable motion. 2 At the Trumpet in Zion they do the laying on of hands -- your long hair passes over me, the purpose of the body hidden in the word. Thinking nothing. Resembling an eighth note. If the rapture taketh then where does the body go when hands lie down on air? A flag dragged through the iris upside down. Desire runs through its stops -- the dance rises to water level. What happens inside music to make it run over arms and legs like a squirrel? Toot toot go to the water to the river of folded wings, 3 where catalpa shade holds a body of gnats just the shape of smoke and water saturates yellow air and a water moccasin displaces the imagination -- not away from but toward where the world reaches and a song carries across water, one they've been singing all along, the same notes and fears, the sound of pure tones. I wouldn't know it if I heard it. I might not know if it were only mine. I would like to think I could clearly hear the music as it calls across so I could know what you know. 4 Bats are back. Looping the Mulberry. Concentric gravitational waves. I think I notice my own radar. I loll in a yellow chair with two ear plugs connected to Art Porter. Art Porter Junior in background on clarinet. Little Rock's own. Follow the ogive turns past Maybelline to Telegraph Road, past Jimmy Doyle's and the white birches, signs for Alltel and Jesus, SunCom, and Ruby Lube. Are you a holy roller William asks his grandmother. No but I'm spirit-filled. Her sisters' faces ghost across her own face as it is -- Jean, Billie in her garden, pious Lucille. 5 I ask myself riddles in sleep and part of me thinks it knows the answers. My body leaks, my ignorance, my desire. I keep a gold tooth which is not the trumpet, wood landing over water knock, photon locked in early light wrapped around a cove, people in a boat, not much talking but it echoes, love is there, when will I ever believe, fill the body up and sing. A wireless chip with beams of light carries itself in your eye. Who sleeps upside down on a ledge with toes turned in, dreams of making love mid-air, only you and me in water? Bats are back. I feel a scarf of air rush past. 6 Some mean ass little red bug just bit the shit out of me! So why does it grease the room with soulless nasal noise, no antennae for opposites, alighting on the trumpet case? Seven years of mending, leaving and coming back through you, I think I can hear syncopation in the last half of the beat, cancellation too, but I only want to touch the button on your blouse. The hi-hat clears the moment. Out of nowhere you came to me. Where is memory with its leaning sideways solo under a stone weight? Out of nowhere you came back. Today and today an old wind blows, music flares above the grasstips. 7 When the moon stares from its forehead and sound waves and particles knock on tiny hairs in the inner ear, information travels -- how can one not know the only pressure occurs at a molecular level? A channel forms in the flow of ions. When one whacks at a cloud of flies, one clarifies that insects don't know where the hell they are -- they can't hear right so spend their remaining days complaining that music by itself is trivial. Their bristles get bent, ions flow in to trumpet the brain, but still no hard high note, no upward rip. 8 Plumbline of the asters, music caught inside the throat, the implacability, the fluted crescent of the body, the temple, the infarcted heart, the age of reason, the tap tap tap of the baton: one time one steps off the porch two stories high, next the song sings itself: the air, the ambient glue, the tongue in mid-salute, the coup de langue, the nation at war, the wormhole connecting nothing to nothing, the creak of heaven over the creek, the flat speckled rock, the event horizon, the accretion disk, the no which means no, the wide swing under stars, the water, the verb, the hidden grammar. 9 Not long ago a fly landed in the butter. The buzz stumbled, the the stared out from the portable computer, the astral light combined with the high speed line to toot back an unheard, unseen opinion so popular here in the South. I reach for you and nothing, not anything from all the days of walking, breathing in and out, waking to change and resemblance, quickened to the task of words, time and timing unsung -- belly to belly, keyboard to hyperthought, one wing gleaming on a salt sweet brick like a face in the screen, increased singularity. 10 I hear the neighbors talking over the fence -- "He came driving up in that turd-colored convertible and didn't even open the door when he saw his stuff all flayed out in the bushes and grass, his shirt with the sleeve drooping over the hostas . . ." The glass doors screech, the monarch glisses over standing water, the ego in its drifting boat interminably waits. We have no ideas but why should we say goodbye? The signature and sign don't mean the end of it. White azalea blossom stuck to mud. That is the end of winter, this a preoccupation with weather which has nothing more than last night on its mind. 11 Thunder and rain all day like the drumming of Zutty Singleton. Ivy gropes the fern, a sprig of oak pollen navigates over two bar breaks. One or two octaves over, like a ghost flattened out, down the basement, up one flight to the dirty silver door with Judas hole, to a few tables and wicker chairs, late afternoon -- that's where to hear a phrase turn. The upright shakes the floor, and when however fast the falling torrent flows -- stop that please thinks management if people stand too long and listen -- the whole world knows in wind when self assured, the roses blow. 12 You know that silo in Oklahoma, the one with chipped tooth on the way to Grandma's house where apple blossoms lit the way to certain hell? Well, it's gone now. The leaping light and silence. Through channels of urgent voluntary sing-song, passing tones in the hallway mirror, tension through the saunter of water cooled air, all is gone. You don't have to remember. Only that violation in the upper registers which sounded and does sound in houses just a few blocks over, and in fact, in this house which is hot at night and cunning, waits for a future. Slap-tongue's gone. The mouth meets and notches the music.
Originally published in Brilliant Corners. From Ghost Notes (Oberlin College Press, 2001). © Copyright 2000 by Ralph Burns. Used with permission. All rights reserved.