Today we have a fairly modern poem from Cuban-American poet Dionisio Martinez. The inspiration, and the title come from a noted jazz album from that great bass-player Charlie Mingus, so immediately the poem announces itself as connecting two great art forms, poetry and jazz music. Why not listen to some Mingus while reading this out loud….
Three or Four Shades of Blues
(after Charles Mingus)
Dionisio D. Martinez
These days in Europe no one is safe.
The terrorist who works at the newsstand
will tell you his country’s government
[s like a jazz band that improvises badly
and too often. His accomplice will say
the Prado museum is not a good shelter:
If someone walks in with a saxophone full
of explosives, Guernica will burn again.
He has figured out what it will take
to blow up the canvas, to bring down
every building in Madrid. The streets
will swallow you like night rain.
These days the European rain falls
through the roofs of the jazz clubs
but no one seems to notice: no one leaves
before the last note of Cryin’ Blues is
dead and the last wine glass broken.
Then they all go out for walks, thinking
that the streets are only streets. They
pass the museum and make plans to go in
someday. A woman says she’s well acquainted
with an architect who reassures her that
those walls will survive every jazz musician
in the continent. One of them overhears
this and says he’s not convinced.
He wants to hock his five trombones and
move to Mexico before the next night rain.
The poem strikes a chord on several levels. It talks of terrorism, which causes so much angst and destruction in our age and evokes the vulnerability of everybody as we go about our business and inhabit our cities. Here we are in Madrid, in the jazz clubs, near the Prado art museum. This is very close to the train station at Atocha where there was a major terrorist bombing of a train just a few years ago. How do we respond to the threat – do we just carry on as normal, or do we try and leave, go to Mexico?
There is no easy answer.
The poem also connects with jazz references throughout the poem, we read of saxophones, trombones, jazz clubs, “Cryin’ Blues”, and people for whom art is more important than everything else, “no one leaves before the last note of Cryin’ Blues is dead and the last wine glass broken.” Art triumphs over the threat of violence. But not always – the trombone player will go to Mexico, and who knows what is the right answer to the dilemma?
The Poetry Dude