On the Death of Miles Davis/ poetry by Thomas Festa

In the hospital where I was born, St. John’s

in Santa Monica, my grandmother cared for Miles Davis

till they turned the machine off 

and he breathed his last breath.

Before that, his breath and I 

had only ever been connected by machines, 

my father’s abandoned record

collection, Kind of Blue and Sketches of Spain;

and concert t-shirts

for the Tutu and Amandla tours

I helped Keith make at work.     

She told

of the ravages he suffered, singular at the end

as he had been from the start, mightily 

protesting himself into a coma.    

It is not

the tone of another world, but this one,

cussed and sutured so to heal,

scars within earshot. Not turning away 

from the audience, as in later years onstage,

but outburst from a backlit thunderhead.

She mentioned 

flowers, followers,

hangers on, 

ambivalences of family, 

all peeled away, dropped 

like petals

into municipal water 

in a glass vase.

I can’t believe 

Bitches Brew

is as old as I am.

What drove my grandmother’s years of volunteering

comes to me like forgotten names of constellations.

Feline, lithe in your approach, we have hardly made you out

in the night sky, nor can we glean your shape,

a breath through innermost brightness, the bell 

of that last trumpet. Another, tolling.

Each one of us listening, sounding

the syncopated notes of our own desolation.

Thomas Festa

Thomas Festa is Professor of English at SUNY New Paltz. He is the author of a study of John Milton, The End of Learning (2006), and two dozen scholarly articles, mainly on early modern English literature. Co-editor of four anthologies, he is currently at work on a study of the late W.S. Merwin’s poetry as well as his own original poems and translations.


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