I’ve surrendered myself to Mingus’s Tijuana Moods
on my obsolete record machine, sitting quiet as I sat last night.
I was thinking of beauty then, how it’s faced grief since the day
that somebody named it. Plato; Aquinas; the grim rock tablets
that were handed down to Moses by Yahweh, with His famous stricture
on the graven image. Last evening, I was there when some noted
in a campus town to southward addressed what he called, precisely,
The Issue of Beauty. Here was a person who seemed to believe
his learned jargon might help the poor because his lecture
would help to end to the exploitations of capitalism --
which pays his wage at the ivied college through which he leads
the impressionable young, soon to be managers, brokers, bankers.
He was hard above all on poems, though after a brief appearance
poetry seemed to vanish. It was gone before I knew it.
The professor quoted, Beauty is Truth, Truth Beauty, then chuckled.
He explained that such a claim led to loathsome politics.
I’m afraid he lost me. Outside, the incandescent snow
of February sifted through the quad’s tall elm trees,
hypnotic. Tonight as I sit alone and listen, the trumpet
on Tijuana Gift Shop lurches my heart wih its syncopations.
That’s the rare Clarence Shaw, who vanished one day, though Mingus
he was teaching hypnosis somewhere. But back again to last evening:
I got thinking of Keats composing and coughing, of Abby Lincoln,
of Lorrain and Petrarch, of Callas and Isaac Stern. I was lost
in memory and delight, terms without doubt nostalgic.
I summoned a dead logger friend’s description of cedar waxwings
on the bright mountain ash outside his door come middle autumn.
I remembered how Earl at ninety had called those verdigris birds
well groomed little folks. Which wasn’t eloquent, no,
but passion showed in the way Earl waved his workworn hands
as he thought of beauty, which, according to our guest,
was opiate. Perhaps. And yet I went on for no reason
to consider Maori tattoos: elaborate and splendid,
Trinidadians shaping Big Oil’s rusty abandoned barrels
to play on with makeshift mallets, toxic junk turning tuneful.
The poor you have always with you, said an even more famous speaker,
supreme narcotic dealer no doubt in our speaker’s eyes--
eyes that must never once have paused to behold a bird,
ears that deafened themselves to the song of that bird or any.
Beauty’s a drug, he insisted, from which we must wean the poor,
indeed must wean ourselves. But I was thinking of beauty
as something that will return--here’s Curtis Porter’s sweet horn--
outlasting our disputations. I was thinking it never had gone.
Sydney Lea's thirteenth poetry collectionHereis due from Four Way Books in September, 2019. Copyright 2019 Sydney Lea