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Kristofer Collins: Jack Teagarden Buries Louis Armstrong’s Oriental Strut, Mesa, NM, ca.1926

for Nancy Krygowski


Nancy, I’m writing you from here in the year of everything

falling apart, where Jack Teagarden sings the oldest blues

he ever heard on the radio, where half of this August sky

is smudged with rain and the rest is simply too tired to try,

and where the voices of old friends sound distant and frail

like a thing wounded and struggling in the ditch, gone to ground

in the fresh mud whispering names of the no longer living,

and then all too soon they are gone as well leaving only

the mourning dove perched over the street lamenting

in my ear, and then the breeze is picking up, warm on my

neck like a damp washcloth, and everywhere around

is just more loneliness attired in familiar shapes, the shadows

the blowing leaves throw around mirror these intricate webs

of blood vessels crowding the loose skin sunk beneath

the eyes of some other old man awash in light and loss,

and lifting the tarnished curve of his horn to papery lips, Jack

Teagarden somewhere in 1947, his heart piled up with booze

and debt, but still a suppleness to his mouth, a flash

of something dangerous in the hard set of his jaw, something

finally empty of tears, and here he is again a young man

kicking the desert dust of Mesa, NM, ca.1926, the sky here unchiseled

by itinerant clouds but still cruel in its cherished adolescence

and far, with his knees in the sun-packed dirt, his hands

become trowels, the bones in his fingers breaking the ground,

gouging something greater than a grave into the land, here

to bury this fragile shellac, this bright utterance

from the uncageable soul, he believes will now outlast

all of America, this fossil-to-be locked under the hard

earth, voices in glory, never silent, forever there

should we need the reminder, Nancy, that such things matter,

the very best of us will last long after the worst

of everything is only a shameful memory.

Copyright 2022 Kristofer Collins

Kristofer Collins’s many collections of poetry include The River is Another Kind of Prayer (Kung Fu Treachery Press, 2019). He lives in Pittsburgh.

Kristofer Collins

3 comments on “Kristofer Collins: Jack Teagarden Buries Louis Armstrong’s Oriental Strut, Mesa, NM, ca.1926

  1. Barbara Huntington
    May 10, 2022

    I love this for so many reasons. New Mexico, state of my birth. Jack Teagarden, a memory from an old Paul Whitman album. Louis Armstrong —so much of my childhood. The blues. The blues.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. David Ades
    May 10, 2022

    This is stunning, Kristofer, thank you – so many memorable phrases (you know, the sort people like me wish they had written…). Bravo.

    Liked by 1 person

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This entry was posted on May 10, 2022 by in Poetry and tagged , , , , .

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