for Edward Kennedy Ellington
…And the lamp caught fire
after he put a blue cashmere sweater over it.
Subtle as a Nance obbligato
on filmy violin—two brown curves en passant,
purflings ease sound out of the stank of violin parts:
belly, waist, chin rest, rib, sound hole, pegbox, tailpiece, rounded shoulder.
Ellington was an expert on them all.
holy writ: Billy Strayhorn would wake up,
compose for four hrs. Would wake Duke
: Blood Count or Ballad for Very Tired and Very Sad Lotus Eaters
for example, & he’d bring his golden torso up,
& finish off the rest of the composition.
In the morning, after composing
all night, Duke would open the closet
[Full of blue cashmere sweaters]
& His Orchestra was playing the next morning:
Plucky, plugugly, pozzolana, porous, & perfect blues.
Daffdowndilly Ebullience Daibutsu Ear Damselfish Ectogenesis
Dardanelles Edge Darksome Eiderdown Demonax Ellipse
Desirous Empire Doughbelly Eohippus Dovetail Espalier
Mozart playing a word-sex game;
just then the creamy, squeezing oboe
exalted-unbolted Chimaphila umbelata plumbed beautiful music
the color of blonde night: red plum jam
on pumpernickel: a Puerto Rican hermaphrodite
putting on pink lipgloss.
Wednesday night, Ellington, who
could forefeel the slightest discolored saxifrage
leaf easing between two rocks, heard
through a catnap & a halfdozen chewed
pencil tips, the babygreen, sweetpea Billy
Blue, through blue dukedoms passed on to accept
That place which comes to each of us alone.
Ellingtonia first appeared in Callaloo, Fall 2000, Vol. 23 No. 4.
Poem, copyright © 2000 by Sean Singer
Appearing on From the Fishouse with permission
Audio file, copyright © 2005, From the Fishouse