Fiction   Essays   Poetry  The Ten On Baseball Chapbooks In Memory

Stream Under the Snow, by Ban-Shindo

Robert Gibbons

for Bill Demakis, & my father,
who both worked diligently for so long

Splitting: Planned Improvisations

Write bones. Write snow. It’s a week & a day from spring, but ears of summer corn find their way to grocery shelves. Snow notes. We dance to Lester Young, Ben Webster, Harry "Sweets" Edison. The sea percussing stones in the distance. Now, now, now. The "Prez" wants a little girl, Ben purrs "Kitty," & Harry wonders aloud, "Did you call her today?"

Kerouac digs Dexter Gordon’s "The Hunt" in On the Road the most. I first turn to jazz hearing Coleman Hawkins’ rendition of "Body & Soul." Snow’s a whole page of sheet music, or a roll of teletype paper sold for a cool mill long after Jack could use it. There’s not enough wine in the house to get high, when one resigns the day job to write. Ben’s wondering aloud how long this’s been going on?

I walk by Wally’s Café on Mass Ave. in Boston on my way to Human Resources to execute the plan, the jailbreak, my own Shawshank Redemption, after all, I lived in Zihuatanejo in 1974 waiting for Nixon to resign!

Lots of sheet music around the house as a kid, my family straight out of Vaudeville, but when my father, son of a grand Tin-Pan-Alley pianist tries to teach me even "Chopsticks" fingers fail, so I take the drive to pound the keys, here, letters like notes & snowflakes, which is all there is, music & oppression, the great Irish interpretation of family life. A week after the 37th president waves goodbye from the threshold of the helicopter we fly home with a bottle of green pulque we purchase in an adobe hut just outside the ruins of Mitla from a nine-year-old girl who carries around her little sister in one arm, fills the clay jug, cuts the cork, melts the wax with the other.

When my father & his friend, Bill, & I, finally open that magic potion, some of which has already eaten through the clay jug, we drink it neat, guys who know better, but Bill waxes sonorous, a word which reminds me of the first woman I meet there in Mexico, Maria, in line in front of me buying tickets for the train from Mexicali to Guadalajara, as I stare down her braless dress, talks to me over her shoulder about what’s in store for us on our journey, if I write, & of her husband, Sonora, who knows Neruda, when after the reading in Mexico City the poet slips out the back away from all admirers, except Sonora & a friend, who join the giant gorging himself on oysters in a restaurant two blocks away. Is that relevant?

Sometimes I wish I could riff to a French Canadian spirituality like Kerouac, part ingrained in the other half of my ancestry, but can't, mine's there, but mute. Though Schoenburg could make an extended appearance here to tone things down, bring his own superstitions into play, cancel out a certain advance, contrapuntally, say, the way Thelonius will in "Oska-T" live in Paris. Snow heavier. Or Keith Jarrett in Köln, Germany, where one of my friends split from us in ’67 to make it to Paris for Bastille Day.

I don’t know why. Fleeing the 8th arrondisement years later after witnessing jets & Prime Minister Pompidou roll on rue St. Honore in an open-air car, ugh, all of which Rimbaud would have loved to leave.

But when the pulque the little Mexican girl prepares for two jazz aficionados & one amateur is poured, (actually Manuel Avila Camacho, attaché to President Echeverria at the time, whom I foretell, that when he & his boss plan to meet with Nixon in two months Nixon will be gone, leads us there), Bill waxes to Wally’s Café.

I hope it snows in death. This morning, with the luxury of turning back in bed for another hour till 7:00, I’m in Denmark in dream eating Danish food two Danish women order. My friend Robert Hellman split the States a year before us for Copenhagen living in a squatters’ neighborhood teaching languages at the university, just as he had at Black Mountain. Send his kid a dollar for the Tivoli Gardens, he sends back a poem situated in Gloucester. The first real poet I meet dies on a Danish train.

Bill reminisces under the influence of pulque of Lester Young, Ben Webster, but mostly hones in on Coleman Hawkins at Wally’s. The Hawk at the end of his career, which is his life, what artists do, link the two, so they can only do the one, live make art. Nothing else. Don’t talk to me any longer of day jobs. Late nights at Wally’s, Bill’s a young businessman, he says, who can’t play a note wouldn’t know the first thing about making any kind of art, but recognizes it when he "seeees" or "heeeears" it & "appreeeeeeciates" it to the max clapping yelling tapping assenting urging, dancing sitting down as Hellman’s friend Olson advocates.

Buying rounds, Bill says Coleman Hawkins loves his whiskey, but can barely afford it, so Bill buys rounds & rounds flow toward the end, Bill says inducing a certain beyond-the-grave ethereal pitch, Soulful Death-linked Beauty, (witnesses blood around the mouth), he’d never heard before, nor since.

Session II: Blue in Green

To Maria Carpenter, with gratitude for asking me to lunch on my last day of work in Boston, at which we sung praises.

Sprung free, see? the beach in Zihuatanejo is clean! Life, bright! Little red stone with eyes looking up at water’s edge toward the ancient sky, Miles Davis above the orchestration of Gil Evans on "Blues for Pablo!" & under it as well, say, on the sand, or riding waves surfers flock to from around the world. The $40 a month shack we live in, where Manuel Avila Camacho pays a visit, comparing it to van Gogh’s digs, what with rough burlap cots against the wall he must see the painter’s bed in below our meager shelf of books. Summer ears of corn magically appearing in the last days of winter, turn into Mexican maize soup I learn how to make from the chef at Maya in New York City. This morning, with what could be called, (risking a certain amount of hyperbolic latitude), my first day of Freedom in thirty years, Miles follows “Blues for Pablo” with an upbeat version of “Summertime.” I’m just lolling, looking out the window, leaning over the keyboard next to a stack of books including an anthology of contemporary Mexican poetry, Reversible Monuments, Rebecca Seiferle generously sent, spending way too much of her own hard-earned cash on postage, where her translation of a poem titled "Hotel" brings me back to "these irons from so much love and saliva" in rooms whose high ceilings represent freedom for two exiles, walking all those labyrinthine streets, unencumbered, unaccosted, the undercover agents offering to fly us anywhere we want to go, but we spot the set-up miles away, even making friends with Mike, the CIA operative there in Mexico City, sympathetic to our own disgruntlement against the government & somewhat envious of our freedom to drop out of an American society experiencing its latest case of mass hysteria, befriending the local printer whose wife taught us how to make black bean soup, & writing work that will become my first book, Below California, self-published, title drawn from the definition D. H. Lawrence gives Mexico in his novel, The Plumed Serpent, claiming the word Mexico means "below this." Miles, whom I'd seen five years earlier, five feet away, from the front table saved for me by another aficionado, surname Ryan, license plate JAZZ 1, at Lenny's on the Turnpike, where the trumpeter’s angry silences blared. Now, on "Footprints," those we leave invisibly all over Guadalajara Zihuatanejo Veracruz snow visible on Popocatepetl as we fly back from Oaxaca to Mexico City the new houseguests at the Camacho compound where Frida & Diego hung on walls, & out, in person in the Forties.

Snow which started all this is over there in another text on the table in the pages of Yasunari Kawabata where his main character Sankichi in the three-page short story "Snow" goes to a hotel every New Year’s Eve to dream the snow dream in which his father stands precariously on an amethyst mountain precipice, snow falling on his arms, which held his son as an infant. Miles, contemplative, on "Florence sur les Champs-Elysées," reminding me of my favorite jazz cave on rue Monsieur le Prince a few doors down from young Rimbaud’s absinthe apartment. Kawabata’s snow turns into the Souls of all the Women he loves during his lifetime, there in the dream hotel. Every New Year’s Eve the freedom of looking ahead in expectation, without trepidation, pour the Champagne!, as opposed to this "Straight, No Chaser," hard stuff forbidden here. "I Thought about You," Mexico, feeling so free today after splitting invisible shackles of the day job. Now, Wynton Kelly, on piano, quietly, tailing off in the distance, saying goodbye, without saying goodbye, the minor note, reverberating, practically unheard, but heard, a snowflake, in the air, in mind, in memory, Miles, in silence.

©2003 by Robert Gibbons

Robert Gibbons recently resigned his position from an academic library in Boston to pursue his writing career full time. His first full-length book, Slow Trains, & Beyond: Selected Work, will be published by Samba Mountain Press, Denver, this summer.

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