BUD POWELL, COMPOSED IN FOUR ELEMENTS
The man brothe hell into a cotton sheet pulled over his chin and over his nose and when it was remove an orderly hold her hand to his forehead and he buckt and coughe sputum. Tissue of his into a tissue of their own. Pulp of fauna into pulp of flora. He had sweat all night and felt his body wasting and would not speak more.
He left the box of black spruce in its lightbeam and strode up into the stars. There was a formation there he followed in some combine until it grew complexer and he left the starflames wittering their cadenza and was back inside the bedshell and sweating again. A burning man will over the stones go and into the riverbed, he thought. I had hands to draw fire from stone and now the lungs are pulling me down away and I thirst and thirst.
He brought his brothers in the bacchanal. There were many leaves of tobacco plucked and many grains fermented and all went burrowing into Bud, so's he could breathe and so's he could swear and so's he could blow sparks from the wrist and drown the Five Spot in cascades of angry chroma. Nothing finer.
In his haze, these were the dreams he drome. They said that he would exhaust and selfconsume, that the phthisis was progressive by nature, that its resolution would be perfect: that what had been his tonic in birth would be his octave in death, the dominant come down and all, and all, and all come down (Jericho!) and he cling and tear the curtain from its rail and the whiskey on the sideboard topple over him, and Mary Lou find him half naked in the mess of whiskey and curtain with his shirt half torn also.
But he was not in the old apartment, he was in King's County Hospital, and the bop as dead in him as he soon would within it be. Hourly a chain of alien words set itself up in him, drawing him from the yards of Harlem to this sanitised instance of Brooklyn, drawing on, drawing on : Steinway, steinweg, sternweg, stöhnweg, stöhnwogen, ste- ste- ste- sterben.
They cut him loose and he go dallying into the heights. The rain blow into shapes before the cafés and he go on into Montparnasse. Valleys of cloud over the cemetery and a shaken tree at the back wall under which a pair of leather gloves had been left. Walking back the wind throw loose newspaper against the ranked taxis and he read the word éveille broken from its frame.
His later years led around by Buttercup, a child led by an angel, and when she was gone by an ardent young man. And she had said she was his wife. He always confused who struck him when and with what blunt object, staring through the window as he got into his clothes, muttering and whistling. They take breakfast, Buttercup and he, later Francis and no Buttercup. Orange juice and pastry, and at lunch braised veal. He close his eyes and the current from the doorway of damp and smoke, and the confusion of voices and footsteps and glasses and plates, and the shimmering of heat from the radiator beneath the table, and the weight and fixity of the table edge on which he rest his fingers, rise in unison to his awareness. The shade of the world slide from blue to white to grey as he open, and as he reach to touch the hand of Buttercup or the hand of Francis or someday to touch his own hand or his own wrist, or to adjust his sleeve over tracks.
Night hours when the wind dragged through his shirt and his flag ragged on the stream and his mouth sagged as he swallowed and he staggered through the door that they held out in front of him through which to look.
He was free of music then, felt none of it in his arms or in his temple or in his intestine but the fire fled into his legs and he dragged the man and the barstool to the floor and he went in a fountain of blood from where he had sustained a supraorbital concussion and the man beat arrhythmically the bones of his face and his ribcage and hips with knuckles and toecaps, making of the Pennsylvania Railroad police a fond memory, one of soberer and stronger times. His hands draped casually over the bar. All that to vapour. Bile and dank chole and plasma on the wind.
A handle of the Hotel Theresa's Johnny Walker they drink in the cab. There is a pause, and he pushes on into in a crashing wave of drums. One key triggers another, one key triggers another, one key another, another, another. A lark hurtle in the emptiness, wings astray, twisting in passage, wings astray, an instance in a row of hurried instances, born out of darkness and into darkness flung.
He duels with Parker. Smoke pours from the mouth of the bar, and screams of jubilation, and screams of disorder. The room folds into a narrow space, into a box of black spruce. Inside the box, the sea is moving. The day drives its fragile columns down, through the waves, down to the point of failure where the darkness, where the giant movements of the deeper ocean render all distract, where the light disassociates and flurries, where colour tends toward its origin, where motion falters, where thought becomes absolute. He surfaces: mouth open, teeth slick, breath sharp with honey, hair wet with perspiration. Bird is wheeling on away, back stiff and straight, fingers fluttering, eyes wall, lips drawn to a bright edge of force. Bud lays down the head once more and the crowd swells to its feet and he stands and raises his tumbler and lets out his breath.
A week or two weeks later he was in Pilgrim State tilting a glass of water through the fractured modes of a halogen bulb, holding the glass close before his eye. The water sloshing from one wall to the other. They put him down at night and he float out on his bark, watch the lanterns on the far wall glut and swallow as the clouds bear in and dream of a distant line of graves and of a distant wall and a pair of gloves. First nights at Minton Playhouse. First drink with Monk. His braver moments. Delirium every night and shaking and vomiting nothing.
No king, bum bum and shammiting, delight vomery dum dum nirium. The muffled lowing of tankers, south of the island. Brentwood garbage trucks roaring under the window as he wake. A life dislimned, shone through a shallow pool.
Later the rapid staccato of the gurney, the seared flesh. The fog of neural closure. The rage of impotence. Becoming bitterness, becoming disdain. A space, a clear space, growing ever clearer and ever whiter and further, bum bum, far movement of great vessels, bum bum, welling of blood at the temple, bum bum, father showing him the door—figures of growing whiteness before his yes and empty eyes.
Taking the subway from 125th into the Bronx the body of my father is a field of electricity in the wall of the tunnel, eyes and teeth and skin and hair and tongue in different colours, thought and word and will and deed in different colours. Incandescent wirebrush. Steady hand. I open my hand in my lap and there is a pilot light blinking and swaying. An old man presses at my shoulder as the brakes come on. I feel my weight in the seat and the weight of the carriage and the force and all bound in circuit with the moon and sun and galaxies of stars. The train is an overlay of patterns. Patterns of beard and head hair and nose hair and neckskin and wool and steel and lino and glass and hot tungsten. They thread through me and I feel a squirrelly song jumping and knocking in my chest cavity. Play Chopin for Mr. Rawlins in the blinkered yellow of his standard lamp.
On other days steal in back of St. Charles Borromeo to work the organ. Into the loft of God and angels. Shoulders held up, arms high, wrists level. At first, no knowledge of the stops. Trembling of earth and heaven. Crackling of thunder, braying blades of magma. Wander into the Harlem evening where the men meet front of the pool hall to smoke cigars. Jungle smell. Nights at the Apollo: jazz orchestras, string ensembles. The walk home afterward humming fragmentary Debussy that changes gradually on the mind and on the tongue, borne through walk and sleep and sleepwalk into other forms. Imperfections in the voice. His father's words. His father's voice in the hallway.
The child went out into the lamplit dark and into the growth of elms and willow and down along the sluggish river under drooping stars. In the water, lilies burned, orange and pink and white and moving on the current. Out of the sky a window grew and a door, and somewhere a song began to resound, small in all the darkness and hush. There was a dark man at the foot of a yew holding a glass bottle of moving red and brown and gold to the soft cotton of his shirtfront. He wiped his lips and sang—
“Oh my fire, my air, my water, oh my earth.”