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A Paean for Sonny Rollins

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A Paean for Sonny Rollins

of the tenor saxophone your story compelled me to listen
to the pain in your Black voice even as you leaped in unison
with Monk, Julius Watkins, Percy Heath, John Lewis and Milt Jackson
playing arias of a soul unhinged… cracked open by discrimination
your paean is from the Pent Up House that you’re in crying
helplessly though we didn’t know it as we heard only edifying
revelry… your pain was no different from Bird’s and Trane’s
your tears fell to earth and died there like dried bloodstains
with every other American revolutionary
from George Washington Carver to Garvey
And yet you did not bay for blood of those lynched
you channeled your fear and tears as notes that winced
as you squeezed them hard, from lungs to lips
then begged on bended knee with swiveling hips
One…two…three…four…five…six…seven
you begged us all good children go to Blue 7

no place in heaven for us, you said,
at least not now, not yet
but as your voice grew infinite… bold and loud
we listened with wider ears and heads bowed
splintered hearts and bodies bent towards your songs
always keeping our eye on the melody of longing…
of the blues, while many strayed so far away
we failed to see what brought us here…to betray
the heart from whence we came… when you and Brownie
blew Valse Hot with Morrow, Richie Powell and brawny
Max Roach who showed us just how dainty the drums could be
because – Cabio Sile Ṣàngó – you called us to party in every melody
you put soul so that every note in every phrase upped
and soared into the rarefied realm floating like phrases plucked
out of mouthfuls of air then tossed into a pirouette
that would spiral out of the tenor every phrase a vignette

a curtain drawn on the palpitations of your beautiful negro heart
especially when you brought Ogun ‘Trane to play a part
in the Tenor Madness… when you wielded the saxophone
as heavy as a drum… thunder and lightning in all melody blown
to kick off the party… Oyo Ṣàngó and also somehow our Apollo
creator of emancipating ideas for whiteman and criollo
St. Thomas to New York you became the Muse for you knew all things
as you shared your dignity and all things
with the dark Cloudfather and with Mnemosyne
Shapeshifter…Eleggua, guardian of the bass line
yet crucified at the crossroads for being too black
for crying the song repeating the melodic line front to back

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