Bye Bye Blackbird


Epilogue: Bye Bye Blackbird


I leave you now
a little wiser,
a little spent


having listened
to scores of CDs,
reels, records, cassettes;


having listened to, read
everything I could get
over and over again,


trying to discover
what your music
means, has meant;


what a life spent
in pursuit of excellence,
peak experience, dissolution


cost to your self,
wives, mistresses,
family and friends;


trying to decide
on what note an
epilogue to a footnote


should end, whether
with another accolade
or attribution of arrogance;


I sort out bouquets
from sobriquets, rose
from thistles, watch


as you bristle at
this or that description
of your art or intent.


Did you perform
as Charles Fox said
like a man reading


from his diary aloud?
Were you stuck
on yourself, shy, proud?


Did the notes you held
feel "like a man walking
on eggshells" to you?


Were you the Picasso
of the invisible art?
A Brando, Callas, Kazan?


Did your ego make
a bellows for you to
bellow with like Saul?


Did the garlands
feel like foliage
you had to hack through?


Or are we all just
burning blue to get
wherever we were going to?


Blowing smoke up your ass
as we all jockeyed
or pulled out to pass?


A diamond cutting
opaque glass is a
lovely metaphor, true –


but was it you?
You weren’t a genius,
didn’t burn incandescent


with insights or intuition
so much as you
maintained a steady glow


that stood as porch light
for a house with
dozens of rooms.


And that light
didn’t flare like Parker’s
and need to be replaced


right away. It shone
for nearly fifty years,
burning both hot and cool.


Paradox, rare avis atop
the bobbing stalk of so
many rushes, did you


just want to trill
while they spotted chevrons,
wing coverts and scapulars,



named you redwing
for what they saw
in their binoculars?


I call you blackbird now
to say goodbye to your
much-imitated ballad style


but, really, you were
more of a quetzal –
sartorially splendid,


flew high above the canopy
no matter how wounded
or prized your plumage.


We caught a glimpse
of you several times,
but have only discarded feathers


with which to track
your trajectory or triangulate
the heights you soared.


There are more treasures
in Columbia’s vaults:
Falling Water and blue skies.


These too, doubtless,
will be prized and appraised,
add further rooms, blind hallways


to the amazing maze
of doors and portals
you created. We’ll find


more feathers too, but never
see you strut or preen
in one place. Never watch you glide


from a low branch
on the Doo Bop tree
to some other hybrid variety.


And we’ll miss that, Miles.
We’ll need more than
pith helmets, binos, and machetes


to make our way through
the dense rain forest of
polytonalities and rhythms you loved.



But we’ll look for your feathers
on the ground. Follow the swath
your sidemen cut, examine stumps.


We’ll love you madly too,
the way you loved Duke and Bird,
Max, Trane, Ahmed, Wayne,


all the others you gave thermals
on which to soar. You didn’t die
with a whimper or a roar


but with phrases of broken
melody, haunting evasions of
and allusions to song. Tag lines


to which we play tagalong,
play hide-and-seek, hoping to see
you land once more upon a tree.



Richard Stevenson's Miles Davis long poem sequence
Version 1.0  © 1997
Presented: September 10, 1997
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