[ poetry - november 08 ]
He taught himself to play by listening to his mother's old records.
By the age of six he knew many duets by heart,
unaware that they were meant for four hands not two.
Later he played in bordellos where he had to be the orchestra -
the clarinet, the bass, the sax. These were house flats in Chicago
where you could go after hours to buy some food, meet some nice
ladies, sit around and eat and drink and have a lovely time.
Tatum sat on a stool improvising with red and yellow and lime.
A bottle of gin and a glass by his side. A girl in a green dress
brushes against his arm. The music is drowned in hoots and howls
and hollers. Only later, when he was six feet under did people
start to whisper about him as though they were in church.
He made Rachmaninov cry. A Tatum became the smallest
perceptual time unit in music. People were said to give up
instantly on hearing his recordings. All that silly o-roonie
would crack up every MacVootie in Chicago.
It's clear that the amber of a soul is nothing without a fly.
Listen to him play with the smoke in his eyes.
That girl in the green dress and the curve of her spine.
Rachmaninov Schmaninov! Let me go blind!