Meeting John Coltrane
By Michael Croft
At 17, I am a prop, a mere witness to the game. My world is part artist, part thief. Yet inside this house, I hear your sound, Luring me in, asking me to sit down. In one corner, Mr. Potter's Wheel and Joe Fancy Pants, One slashing the air with his ponytail, Demonstrating his need to spin gobs of clay into plates and saucers. The other regaling us with stories of a crooked wire In a slot machine, robbing it of its gold.
In the other corner, I listen to you, not them. There is no guitar, no screaming madman. Only your horn, a big horn, Coming at me, singing, churning, gathering notes, Sucking me in, taking me down this liquid ride, Telling me something new. At peak's end, I hear it all- Piano. Bass. Drums. Stirring, thrashing, most of all coming. Bursting forth. A blanket of notes, breaking ground, showing me new terrain, A soothing mixture of melody and clash.
On the come down, I ask myself, Who am I? I know this: I am neither shiny plates nor stolen goods. But merely a lover of open thought, Someone on the lookout-the prowl. Outside all of this, I question- Who am I? What do I do? On the lone walk home dreams of humble potter's studios And spinning cards fade. Yet I still hear your horn, Inviting me in, telling me to sit down.
At 26, I know you. I have studied you. Listened to you Stoned and alone, or jammed tight with friends. Each time I climb in between the felt pads, Wrench myself into the corner, careful not to get hit By the onslaught of your sheets of sound. Every night we go to Philadelphia, New York, Camden, Somewhere along the Hudson. Always I'm dressed. Dapper white jacket and shiny brown shoes. You're always quiet, sometimes awfully alone. Always playing, amassing those notes, drinking them in, Breaking them down, making them listen, transporting them Into your well and out again.
At the Village, The Village Vanguard, I hear a note, a new note. It's me, not you and me, but simply me. I discover my own horn, my own humble potter's studio pad, My own bag of stolen chips and fast get-away rides. I tell Mr. Potter's wheel that I write, that I nudge words into print. That I smear the canvas until I'm drunk on my own rhythm section Of Elvin, Jimmy, and McCoy. But his ears are clogged with clay. He's on his way to Japan to study dirt and gallerymen. Joe Fancy Pants smiles and says, "but what will it pay?"
I still listen, but somewhere along Central Park West, I move to the back row. My white jacket turns denim blue. I hear you differently now. Your Alabama speaks to me. That bluesey pledge to the four back girls blown to Kingdom Come. And from my own dark smudges on the page, I see the Giant Steps Between your notes and mine, and I ask myself if I count, If I'll ever escape this room cluttered with profiles of your photos And books I'll never read.
At 42, I read you more than I listen. Your liner notes for A Love Supreme, A Love Supreme Is a testament to your own trying tribulations And stories of how your own scorched and heated liver Gave way to something Higher. And how my own Love Supreme came at night, without warning, Like yours, crashing down on me, invading my house With white lights and dark nights, showing me dreams that revealed Tomorrow, telling me in a voice higher than any notes you ever sang: I am the Father. You are the Son. I need you as you need me.
And I still listen. Naima. Soultrane. And a refrain from My Favorite Things. You soothe me on those nights when my bones holler at me, Telling me stories of Mr. Potter's Wheel tucked inside a faculty meeting, His black glasses sliding down his nose. And Joe Fancy Pants running crazy in Las Vegas, His diamond teeth soiled & broken.
And me? I'm more ballad than blues. More time hearing the screams of the four black girls' final hymn, Soft wails upon a bomb's last breath, darkened by smoke and tears. This sounds speaks to me, Tells me it's all oddly connected, something I don't quite understand. So I keep- Listening. Listening. Listening.
Michael Croft is a fiction writer who lives in his hometown of Reno, Nevada. For many years he worked in local area casinos dealing cards and dice. During the summer of 1970, he was introduced to the music of John Coltrane by a legendary Reno gambler, and he has been an avid listener ever since. He has published fiction in several literary anthologies including The Pacific Review and Muses: Words into Music. His poem Meeting John Coltrane was declared a winner in a jazz/poetry contest sponsored by KCSM-FM, a jazz radio station in San Mateo, California. Croft considers this poem his most autobiographical piece of writing to date.