My Benny Goodman Boyfriend

Photo: Santiago Alarcon. CC0/Public domain.

I’m waiting for my Benny Goodman boyfriend. He’s
Sitting in a practice room alone, in an old brick
Building shabby but well-known, high ceilings
With dim light globes hanging down, nudging
Back the pooling shades of night. He’s trying out
A new run on his clarinet, same measure played
Over and over, to move himself from unsure
Into sure. Earned his union card at age 13, when
Most boys just have eyes for sports or dates. But
Him, no time to waste, knowing just how long it takes
To get it right. At this address, some tenants rent for
Centuries. Passing him last week on the stair, Benny
Loaned Mozart bus fare. Practice demands small
Space, four walls that isolate. Down these dark halls,
Though, old tunes flare like fireflies. Behind one
Door, Scott Joplin sits at his piano straight upright,
Radiating solitude stark as the sun’s. The melancholy
“Solace” drifts the corridors, brushing Billie and
Lester as they sway, then grazing Benny’s cheek:
He syncopates his beat. Even at the peak of his
Success, when cheering crowds would settle
For much less, still here he’d be, reconfiguring
Intricate fingering, binding even his own breath, so
Each note enters silence whole, and exits whole.
Musicians, poets, and scientists all worship
At the stern altar of emptiness, blank slate
Against which they write number, word, or
Note. Life shatters them as it does all. Their
Shelter, where desire submits to what’s
Required: craftsman’s patient failures,
Scholar’s weary wait. What we would
Treasure, we must contemplate.
What would you have
The one who loves you
See? That death looms,
And that you take breath is
Their great joy. So thinks
My Benny Goodman boyfriend,
Flesh of my flesh, bone of my bone,
As he sits, and as
I sit, alone.

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