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A Paean for Sonny Rollins

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A Paean for Sonny Rollins

Walter Theodore Rollins, Oyo Ṣàngó and also somehow our Apollo
You took your horn, forged in fire to warn us of our sinful, hollow
nature, winging your way through the wind and the song to embolden
our lives… O Black Helios, African son of Zeus and Leto, ghost of Bolden
Accept me, poor writer of lyrics forged in darkness, born of Eshu and Ala
Just like you were all those years when Hawk and Pres were our gala
Before the pantheon was peopled by our Titans… Pops and Bechet and Duke
and Mingus and Monk and Diz, and Bird… O Bird who set us free as Cinque
and Lumumba and Okigbo, perhaps Soyinka, who you celebrated in Airegin
I remember him as you do… For how can we forget? Certainly not now
that you have grown silent… Still I hear you now
especially now as in Amerikkka #everydayisblackhistory
strange to say even as we sing in bebop, while they use sophistry

to spell the end of slavery?
Jazz versus thugery
and you chose Jazz to lift your spirits and mine
High above Kilimanjaro…our Olympus… divine
altar where you worshipped with Byas and Hawk… Bird and Prez
wrote your name in blood just like Garvey and Bird, the heirs
of Olorun “The Mighty”… builder of the earthly dynasty
if it weren’t for that needle in the arm your melody
would never be overcome as it was then, for once
– and it seemed like forever – condemned to silence
you fought the needle in the arm in a place
again so far from home and your safe space
can you be blamed for lapsing… falling again… backsliding
into the barrel of the gun? But with only Miles chiding
something snapped… and you? You, hitting rock-bottom,
decided to pull hard and back again towards the awesome

nuclear corona… the spindle of the roaring, flame-spitting sun
light… then spooky shadows… your own expressionistic hymn
A choir in the Blue Room… vaunted polyphony with Dorham
Max Roach, John Lewis… and Bennie Green, Miles and JJ Johnson
carving the air as black dots leaped off paper and into the air
liberated in the harmonies of liquid glissandos…a legato prayer
Oleo… then splintering the silence with Airegin and Doxy
as you delivered your blues… and inspirational ethnology
Legba-like…Bird-like… Apollo-like…but always Newk-like
redeemer…almost-lover…Parsifal… Wagnerian and child-like
all at once… singing phrase upon phrase and melodic variation
with languid seduction your sumptuous tenor expression
and sure sense of harmonic delineation beguiles
with spacious unmannered neutrality melodic oenophile
never rushing in voice even in as you unfold a line in bebop
time you reveal all of the uncontrollable suffering, a fabled Aesop

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