His songs are like an ancient city;
the architecture, strange but useful.
For sixty years the acolytes
have felt their way around these corners,
memorised their sharp left turns,
the streets that break all traffic rules
and leave new ones behind,
the intervals and sequences
stretched along a dark piano
and leaving no instructions.
Titles serve as talismans
to tell them where they’ve been:
“Brilliant Corners”, “Bemsha Swing”;
or give offbeat advice:
“Straight, No Chaser”, “Well, You Needn’t”.
A few may be performance markings:
“Misterioso”, “Trinkle Tinkle”.
One, “Green Chimneys”, plays a skyline.
“Ruby, My Dear”
and “Crepuscule with Nellie”:
two loved women make a life.
“Blue Monk”, “Monk’s Dream” are episodes.
So, too, “Pannonica”;
likewise, “In Walked Bud”.
“Round Midnight” is a shot of bourbon,
set up on the bar,
a nadir no life quite escapes.
The bar is in the city
they find they’ve come to know;
its street maps and geometries
are nine parts understood.
Resisting all transcription,
the tenth eludes them still.