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.
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.
ambivalences of family,
all peeled away, dropped
into municipal water
in a glass vase.
I can’t believe
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 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.