poetry
autumn/winter 2016

'Round Midnight, November 21, 1947 (for Thelonious Monk)

 

By Clifford Thompson

In a small city, big town,
solitary men on a lamplit, otherwise dark, otherwise empty street,
one in a hat, jacket, no tie, calling out in a reedy voice, expressing, relieving sorrow
—another, keyed into what’s been said, responding--
a third, encouraged, crying out still more piercingly, brass in his throat
—the response again--
the two criers calling out together
—response--
and a fourth, big and gentle, tall and upright,
unheard before now, stepping from the shadows, 
speaking in his bass,
has what all think is a good idea.
    
For many blue bars
the men sit together in a bar
with its otherwise solitary men, their hats and grievances,
the responder saying what the others, moaning and nodding, know,
then telling his own story in this low-lit room,
shining new light on the stories of the other men,
whose eyebrows rise like blinds, 
and this calls for another round
’round midnight.

Clifford Thompson is the author of Love for Sale and Other Essays, the memoir Twin of Blackness, and a novel, Signifying Nothing. His essays on books, film, jazz, and American identity have appeared in a variety of publications.