Two Poems by Arthur Russell

Unbent Trumpet

 

 

I unbent a trumpet,

looking for Andrew, my first friend,

 

to answer an ache

to a deeper joint than knees.

 

Down the tool room,

 

with a propane torch,

a hard rubber hammer and a soft steel pry

I smithied out the bends of the horn I’d played in high

school.

 

If he were in there,

I would find him.

 

The blue flame burnt the varnish

and the stout tube sweated

solder like candle wax

and the air stunk sweet with flux.

 

The valve set—all three at once—came free

in my right hand.  I regarded it

like a pearl-capped grenade

and worked the valves with stupid insistence;

watched openings align and then move out of line.

 

The horn I’d played beside him,

disintricated and unraveled,

lay in straightened heat-stained

pieces on the brown bench

like orderly bones,

 

and yet the night disputed

what my knuckles insisted

and my jaw believed;

 

so I put it back together

as a jerry-rigged telescope,

 

a four-foot clarion

without heraldic flag

and now it was nearly morning.

 

and I loved that man before he was a man.

I loved him first, before I knew my heart

 

I held the straightened trumpet up;

 

I held my eye to the mouthpiece.

 

If he were in there,

I would find him.

 

I looked up through the trumpet

toward the incandescent

basement light,

 

and I saw him,

                  down Sheepshead Bay,

 

the summer after graduation,

with a soft instrument case

hanging from his shoulder,

thick curls parted in the middle

under a newsboy cap

and whitened blue jeans

torn at the knee.

 

There were fishermen on the pier—

fileting blues on the cleaning tables;

a cigarette caught in a crevice at the faucet

smoking thickly like a punk in the moveless air.

 

He stopped in the middle of the footbridge

that crossed Sheepshead Bay

from East 19th to Manhattan Beach,

to unpack his trumpet

and licked his little mustache,

 

where the sound from his lips first imagined

the air above the bay beyond the bell;

 

and he played that bell-buoy trumpet over the

glassy listless bay

majestic among the moorings

from Emmons Avenue

to Exeter Street

 

where anyone,

anyone could have heard him.

 

 

 

“Unbent Trumpet” was previously published in Red Wheelbarrow #9, October 2016.

 

 

 

 

 

Easter Sunday Morning

 

 

A pigeon pursued by a shadow

shot the gap between buildings like a fighter plane

from the early sun toward my balcony.

Its skull rang the double pane

with a metal clang, and it fell

to the concrete floor, its grey chest heaving.

 

Specks of head feather made a circular mark

on the glass. I slid the heavy door aside.

 

The noise that fills our city courtyards

poured into my home like foam peanuts

in a shipping box.  I went outside

in my pajama pants and knelt between

the pigeon and my failed avocado,

whose chopstick crutch was stouter than the stem

I’d twist tied to it; and the bird I feared,

as a city boy, to touch, whose death

I feared to share—compassion caught like a foot

in the fork of a tree—lay breathing slowly.

 

It had a short, yellow beak with dark

striations like an old piano key,

and, at its base, instead of pince nez glasses,

waxy bulbs of whitish nostril rested.

The tiny head where it had punched the glass

swelled like the knot on a Sikh boy’s turban.

 

Its well-black eye was glazing toward milk.

 

On the next-roof-over parapet, nonchalant

and motionless, a pyramid of patience,

I saw the shadowed peregrine waiting

for the pigeon it had chased to panicked death

to die.  And I, with eyes made mother-hard,

stood and thrust my chin out at the falcon,

which turned its head to show me how its dark beak curved.

 

I reached back for the beach chair then, too intent

to turn away and set it like a tent

above the dying bird, and went inside,

and closed the sliding door behind me,

cutting off the noise.

 

The white quilt that enveloped my young wife

shown in the dark like the snow on the lawn

of our current home when I go outside

in the early dark to shovel.  I sat

on the edge of the bed.  I touched her hairline.

Our love, then, had a jigsaw fitting calm.

 

I told her I had looked up from my coffee,

seen the pigeon come, more bomb than bird,

and crash into the billboard of itself

that was our window,

and how I felt my heart at impact

shrivel like a nut sack in cold water

when the poor thing fell and lay there lifeless,

but for its twitching, tangled, scaly feet.

 

But when we reached the living room,

even before I slid the door aside,

I saw beneath the folding chair, the pigeon

where I’d left it wasn’t

there, and the dead

tree stem lashed to the chopstick, jutted

from its hilltop in the chipped clay pot;

and outside, in the noise and brick-walled courtyard,

neither on the parapet, nor anywhere,

the falcon with its terrible intent.

 

Nothing of the pigeon remained on the balcony

except the ring its head left on the door.

 

We stood that way forever; even now

we stand there in our sleep clothes, I, who saw it,

and she, who only heard of it from me.

 

 

 

“Easter Sunday Morning” was previously published in the American Journal of Poetry.   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Arthur Russell lives in Nutley, New Jersey. He won fellowships to Syracuse University and the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center. His poem “Whales Off Manhattan Beach Breaching In Winter” was voted 2015 Poem of the Year at Brooklyn Poets, won Honorable Mention in the Allen Ginsberg Poetry Prize for 2016, and was anthologized in Bettering American Poetry, Brooklyn Poets Anthology; and Paterson Literary Review. His chapbook Unbent Trumpet was a finalist in the 2017 Center for Book Arts Letterpress Chapbook Poetry competition.

 

 

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