February 7, 2011

Jazz Poetry - “One O'Clock Jump”

One O’Clock Jump by Paul Zimmer

Still tingling with Basie’s hard cooking,
between sets I stood at the bar
when the man next to me ordered
scotch and milk. I looked to see who had
this stray taste and almost swooned
when I saw it was the master.
Basie knocked his shot back,
then, when he saw me gaping,
raised his milk to my peachy face
and rolled out his complete smile
before going off with friends
to leave me in that state of grace.

A year later I was renting rooms
from a woman named Tillie who wanted
no jazz in her dank, unhallowed house.
Objecting even to lowest volume of solo piano,
she’d puff upstairs to bang on my door.

I grew opaque, unwell,
slouched to other apartments,
begging to play records.
Duked, dePrezed, and unBased,
longing for Billy, Monk, Brute, or Zoot,
I lived in silence through
that whole lost summer.

Still, aware of divine favor, I bided time
and waited for the day of reckoning.
My last night in Tillie’s godless house,
late - when I knew she was hard asleep -
I gave her the full One O’Clock Jump,
having Basie ride his horse of perfect time
like an avenging angel over top volume,
hoisting his scotch and milk as he galloped
into Tillie’s ear, headlong down her throat
to roar all night in her sulphurous organs.

--From Crossing to Sunlight Revisited (University of Georgia Press, 2007)

Note: American poet and editor Paul Zimmer was born in Canton, Ohio, in 1934. Admirably, he flunked out of college and worked in a steel mill instead. In the mid-1950s, he was a journalist in the U.S. Army. It was the boredom and loneliness of Army life that led him to discover his love of reading and eventually writing. Zimmer published his first book, the darkly titled The Ribs of Death, in 1967, and the following year he finally received his Bachelor’s degree at Kent State. Other notable books include The Great Bird of Love (1989) and After the Fire: A Writer Finds His Place (2002). As an editor, he has directed the university presses at Georgia, Iowa, and Pittsburgh.

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