Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Halloween, Jazz, and Feliz Navidad!

I've been celebrating Christmas in bits and pieces.  Tonight I'd like to post Donal Mahoney's "Feliz Navidad" -- before it is New Years or Little Christmas or, worse, Candlemas!

Feliz Navidad

Pedro swings a mop all night
on the 30th floor of Castle Towers
just off Michigan Avenue
not far from the foaming Lake.
The floor is his, all his, 
to swab and wax till dawn. 

The sun comes up and Pedro's 
on the subway snoring, 
roaring home to a plate 
of huevos rancheros
six eggs swimming 
in a lake of salsa verde
hot tortillas stacked
beside them. 

After breakfast, 
Pedro writes a poem 
for Esperanza,
the wife who waits 
in Nuevo Leon.
He mails the poem 
that night, going back
to his bucket and mop.

Pedro's proud  
of three small sons,
soccer stars
in the making.
On Christmas Eve 
the boys wait up
in Nuevo Leon
and peek out the window.
Papa's coming home 
for Christmas!

Pedro arrives at midnight
on a neighbor's donkey,  
laughing beneath 
a giant sombrero.
He has a red serape 
over his shoulder,
and he's juggling 
sacks of gifts.

When the donkey stops,
the boys dash out and clap 
and dance in circles.
Esperanza stands 
in the doorway
and sings 
Feliz Navidad.

Donal Mahoney


Donal Mahoney, a native of Chicago, lives in St. Louis, Missouri. He has had fiction and poetry published in print and online publications in the U.S. and elsewhere. Among them are The Wisconsin Review, The Kansas Quarterly, The South Carolina Review, The Christian Science Monitor, The Beloit Poetry Journal, Commonweal, The Galway Review (Ireland), The Osprey Journal (Wales), Public Republic (Bulgaria), and The Istanbul Literary Review (Turkey).

I seem to be going backwards, but here is Allyson Lima's moving poem about her mother and jazz.  I had intended to publish it during the semester.

House Musicians

She was more absence than presence
Never spoke of her father
Except to say he played piano

I only knew her by the music
Spied on her from behind the door
Pale fingers poised above the ivories
And the black keys—
Hold the low tones then flutter
Down cascading phrases

          “The falling leaves drift by my window
            The autumn leaves of red and gold
            I see your lips, the summer kisses
            The sun-burned hands I used to hold”

She plays Nat King Cole but it’s her song too

           “Since you went away the days grow long
            And soon I’ll hear old winter’s song
            But I miss you most of all my darling
            When autumn leaves start to fall”

Who is that guy? I ask when she hangs a portrait
5x7 black and white in the hallway.
Dapper bow-tied entertainer--piano player
His gaze so seductive it could stop you cold
Even a kid knows this guy’s trouble

Her music was no sing along,
No Mitch, no Bing, no bedtime lullaby

Hers were the jazz riffs
Cubist tone fragments
Music undone broken notes smoky
Drifts shifting in air like dark dreams
Reshaped caught on vinyl

Records of survived betrayals
Broken beats of lives revived
In low-lit smoky rooms
Blackhawk, Blue Note, urban clubs
And her glassed-in living room.

LPs in cool jackets leaned against
The blond wood stereo like Sinatra
On the night street album cover
Borsalino angled over baby blues in the boozy
Lamplight and cigarette smoke
In the wee small hours—such well crafted drama
He made grown women cry

Music always playing when I came home
From school always playing in her afternoon
Errol Garner Duke Ellington Oscar Peterson
Louis Armstrong trumpets and Ella Fitzgerald scats
in her unearthly voice how high the moon

Ella Fitzgerald voice of the century
My mother so admired her she once made my father
Go backstage at the Blackhawk just to pay respects.
Ella-- voice for all time couldn’t stay in the same
San Francisco hotel where she sang
Then left out the back door to walk
A dark street to dream elsewhere.

Armstrong and Fitzgerald sit together on
The album cover posed on folding chairs like
Old married folks at the grange hall
His white socks rolled down bebop-style 
She wears a cotton print housedress
(Ella must have hated that cover—
She sang in gowns and pearls in Paris)

MJQ’s suit-and-tie jazz John Lewis hits highbrow notes
Ray Brown plunks the double bass makes it speak like
No one ever heard Miles Davis Coleman Hawkins Art
Tatum, Charlie Parker Les Brown and Wes Montgomery Les Paul
Milt Jackson jivin’ the vibes— those round sounds held her

Django Rheinhart  Stefan Grappeli
Are you kiddin’ me?
You know she felt good then

Even when the pops came along
Stan Getz’s strange meadow lark and
Astrid Gilberto her gorgeous Portuguese
Makes a beachcomber out of anyone
Stuck in suburbia

Cal Tjader’s red hot vinyl beats
Antonio Carlos Jobim’s guitar with
Brazilian accent--Latin’s catching on
Las Vegas nightclubs--Louis Prima Keely Smith
Ahmad Jamal’s Cry Young and

Not one single musical –no post-war feel-good South Pacific
No Oklahoma where the wind comes sweepin’ down the plain
To blow away the 1950’s suburban housewife blues
But Ray Charles--Ruby and Georgia on My Mind to break your heart

Dad comes home whiskey-breathed
Swings her ‘round the kitchen keepin’ the beat
One hand stuck down the back of
Her French blue stretch pants
No, Jack, No! she protests eyes sparkling
Singing along with Ray hit the road Jack

We didn’t know he would really go.
Never guessed they would take new lovers.
I know because I found the love letter
in her lingerie drawer—musician too

Distant mystery-mother of four
My younger sisters don’t remember her
Ask me what she was like
Died in the hospital age 42
After a routine operation

Some say she died of suicide.

I say it was a slow dance
In the wrong generation
For a woman like her
Who lived in music and
couldn’t get enough of it.

By Allyson Lima  October 19, 2015

Costumes                                                                             By Allyson Lima  October 31. 2015                                             

Bend the pretend wires of time

One day—

Do what you meant to do
What you’re meant to do
Is there a costume for that?

Go ahead
whine a little
at the sun
Give it a little airtime
before you leave

Still here?

Take my hand, take two
I’ll go with you in the dark

Are you still waiting
For the door to open

In your silly costume?

Trick-or treat
Sweets and bellyaches
You’ll get both

                                                                 the  door

What do you seek
In the moonlight?

Don’t forget to ask
Don’t forget to knock
There are no costumes

Next time around.

By Allyson Lima  October 31, 2015

Allyson has given me so many ideas for the music, but let's keep a Christmas theme.  Unlike many of you, I feel deprived of holiday music.

Let's start with Nat King Cole's "Christmas Song":

"O Come All Ye Faithful" is one of my favorite carols:

The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis performs "We Three Kings":

Here is their "White Christmas":  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p6mvjnhwrEs

Oscar Peterson recorded a Christmas album in 1995, and here is his version of "Silent Night":

The album also includes "The Christmas Waltz":

Allyson just sent me a photo of Lincoln Center at night!


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