back toJacket2

This piece is about ` printed pages long. It is copyright © Barry Gifford and Jacket magazine 2008.
Jacket’s [»»] copyright policy. The Internet address of this page is

Barry Gifford

Three poems and a play

You can read Barry Gifford in conversation with Noel King in this issue of Jacket.

              Monk's Funeral

  Snowy February day in New York 1982
     I read in newspaper Thelonious Monk's funeral
   open to public I trudged crosstown
             through drifts to get there
     Saint Peter's church Lexington & 54th
  woman handed me program at the door
           went in sat down on bleacher seat
    3/4 round auditorium with windows so people
outside pressed against glass looked in
     sat behind Sandman Sims famous tapdancer
   also Amiri Baraka and Monk's family
       with them the Baroness Nica de Koenigswarter
    in whose apartment Charlie Parker died 1955
   he was 35 the medical examiner said Bird had
           body of a man thirty years older
     There was Monk in open coffin front and center
 still on the bandstand dressed in a good suit
      Telegrams from Miles and Dizzy read to crowd
  more than a dozen musicians played their favorite
      Monk tunes: Walter Bishop, Jr., Tommy Flanagan,
       Barry Harris, Charlie Rouse, Gerry Mulligan
         made everyone cry with Ruby, My Bear solo
     Randy Weston towering over everyone at the piano
           made Monk come alive all over again
   I looked at the center window a postman bag over
     his shoulder nose against glass wide-eyed
              with frozen tears
       We filed past the coffin and bid adieu
         then out into the crepuscule as Monk
          called his song for wife Nellie
        snowflakes swirling in dim Central Park light
           I walked listening Thelonious
                abiding with me

    The Generalissimo Waves

Listening to Noche de Biarritz
   watching fog lift
                    here in
             San Francisco
    You once said Why don't
 you live in Europe
         closer to me
   but later
       when I lived
                   in Rome
        you never came
              to see me
    I think of you
          dying now
            at that hotel
             in the Alps
      I watched lightning
            heard thunder standing
               on the balcony
   of my room in the Villa Selva
        snowstrewn mountains
                         under the moon
           thirteen years ago
              Tabou is playing now
            the Lecuona Cuban Boys
                from the 1930s
             your favorite decade
              whispery melodies
                rumbas with
                        clever lyrics
  What are you listening to? the last
         sounds you'll ever hear
      You won't lie still
              like Proust expecting
            a wildhaired crone
               in a dark cape
                 to enter the room
        you'll die reaching
                           for a book
                       a record
                          Bajo de Luna
                     on your
           crocodile skin

   Hey, Ludwig, Grab Yourself a Pigfoot

 Monk's "Functional” (1956)
     kicks me in the same place
    as Beethoven's 3rd movement
("Adagio ma non troppo—Fuga.
           Allegro, ma non troppo")
   of his "Sonata No. 31 in A flat major,
                  Opus 110")
     Monk made Beethoven over
        strolling on 63rd Street
             just whistling
          on the way home
           from the liquor store—
        or is that
                   too simple?

              THE FARM TEAM

      (A story in the form of a play.)


ERNEST HEMINGWAY, American writer
    and      ) pitchers for the Brooklyn Dodgers
MARTHA GELLHORN, Hemingway's wife, also a writer

Ernest Hemingway and Martha Gellhorn's house on the grounds of their Finca Vigia outside Havana, Cuba, in 1941. The time of the year is early spring. The Brooklyn Dodgers baseball team is in training for the upcoming major league season and two of their players, pitchers Hugh Casey and Kirby Higbe, have become companions of the 42-year-old author of The Sun Also Rises and A Farewell to Arms among other books. It is just after ten-thirty p.m. when Casey and Higbe, led by Hemingway, storm into the house through the front porch door and mill about in the living room like lions or tigers driven by the lash of a whip into a cage. Each of them stalks the room warily for a long time, as if they -- even Ernest -- had never been in it before. They are all more than slightly inebriated.

CASEY: So this is your domain, hey, Ernie? Where you do your drinking.

HIGBE: Call him Ernest, Case. He told us he don't like people callin' him Ernie.

HEMINGWAY: Wherever I am is where I drink. I'm here now.

HIGBE: So are we. We're all three of us here in Cuba.

CASEY: That's right. Higbe's right. What're you gonna do about it, Ernesto?

HEMINGWAY: Might I offer you gentlemen a libation?

HIGBE: I thought there was only Cuban women in Cuba.

HEMINGWAY: What's he talkin' about?

CASEY: What're YOU talkin' about, Ernesto?

HEMINGWAY: I'm of offering you bums a beverage.

CASEY: Hell, yes, Hem, we'll take you up on that offer.

HIGBE: Up and up!

HEMINGWAY goes to his wet bar and pours whiskey into glasses for each of them, hands out drinks.

HEMINGWAY: The regulars at the Havana Gun and Country Club surely appreciate your patronage, boys, but I'm not certain they've got enough doves to last you until the end of spring training.

HIGBE: Us country boys are sure as shit some sharpshootin' sons of bitches, you bet.

HEMINGWAY: Hig, I wish I had eagle eyes like you, but I inherited my eyes from my mother. I would've been better off having had an eagle for a mother than the one I have. Her character is as fucked up as her eyesight.

HIGBE and CASEY can sense HEMINGWAY's mood shift at the mention of his mother. They all drink harder, doing maximum damage to the bottle.

HEMINGWAY: Come on, Case, let's put on the gloves.

HEMINGWAY takes down two pair of boxing gloves hanging by their laces from a hook in one corner of the room, tosses a pair to CASEY. As the men are pulling on and lacing up the gloves, assisted by HIGBE, Ell's wife, MARTHA GELLHORN, enters. She's a dirty blonde Barbara Stanwyck type, tough and sassy, not terrifically beautiful but attractive and smarter than the men, including her husband, who knows this and hates her because of it. She swiftly and accurately appraises the scene.

GELLHORN: Good evening, children. I'll be damned if I can't hear the third sheet fluttering in the wind.

CASEY: Evenin', Missus Hemingway.

HIGBE: Evenin', missus.

HEMINGWAY: You can dispense with the formality, boys. Señorita Gellhorn don't cotton to the marital terminology. Martha, my esteemed opponent is none other than Mr. Hugh Casey, presently a pitcher for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Serving as second for both of us is Mr. Kirby Higbe, also of the Brooklyn team, and noted author of what has been appropriately dubbed the high, hard one.

HIGBE: Don't listen to him, missus  — I mean ma'am. I ain't no author. I'm a pitcher, like Case. It's what they call my numero uno.

GELLHORN: Your Spanish is very good, Mr. Higbe. But don't worry, I listened to Mr. Hemingstein once, and that was enough.

CASEY: I know what you mean. Ol' Ern knows how to convince people in a hurry.

HEMINGWAY: Cut the crap, Case. Hig, get us out of the clinches and keep the furniture out of our way.

GELLHORN: Pardon my asking, Mr. Casey, but aren't you in training?

CASEY: You know, ma'am, I always pitch better when I have a few the night before. It always gives me a guilty feeling out there, and I bear down a little harder.

HIGBE: That's right. Our general manager, Mr. Mac Phail, once asked Case with a month to go in the season if he could hold out, and Case told him, Larry, if there's enough whiskey left, I can make it.

HEMINGWAY and CASEY begin boxing. MG leaves the room. The two men hit each other hard and often. HIGBE scurries around in a futile attempt to preserve lamps, chairs and other stationary items.

Later. HEMINGWAY and CASEY, exhausted, drop into armchairs. HIGBE unties their gloves and pulls them off.

HEMINGWAY: How many times you go down, Case?

CASEY: I don't know. Six or seven, I guess.

HEMINGWAY: You count the knockdowns, Hig?

HIGBE: Yeah, six, seven maybe if it weren't for him landin' on the settee.

HEMINGWAY: Never for more than a second or two. You knocked me down twice, Case. You're a tough fella.

HIGBE: I'll say he's tough, Ernest. One day last September the Cardinals was poundin' Hughie pretty good and Durocher stomps out to the mound to get him. Had me warmin' up. I'm ready to go, about to leave the bullpen, but I see Case and Leo jawin' for a while, then Leo walks back to the dugout. I never saw so many batters hit the dirt as after that. Case musta hit eight or nine.


HIGBE: They beat us nine to one. Back at the hotel, I asked Case why Leo left him in. Tell Hem what you told me, Hughie.

CASEY: It looked like the game was lost anyway, so I asked Leo to leave me in and I would teach those Cardinal hitters a lesson they'd never forget. Told Durocher I'd put stitchmarks on their sides and backs so they wouldn't dare to dig in against me again. But my fastball ain't nothin' compared to Kirby's. His heater sounds like a freight train comin' in.

HEMINGWAY: I heard a sound like that once. It was on the front in the war. When I woke up, two Italian soldiers were dead and a third was screaming. I picked him up and carried him back to a medical tent while the Jerries kept firing their machine guns. I got hit in the ankle and then the knee, but I managed to crawl the last ten yards to the tent. When I got there the third soldier was dead and my kneecap was blown off. The doctors fished out a hundred or more pieces of shrapnel from my leg. Three months later, I limped out of the hospital with a metal kneecap. Couldn't walk without a cane for almost a year.

HIGBE: Me'n Case Case put a few boys in the hospital, usually from throwin' the spitter, which ain't easy to control, but even we can't compete with a machine gun.

CASEY: You win, Ernesto. Let's drink to it.

HEMINGWAY rises with difficulty, goes over to the bar, opens a new bottle, puts out three clean glasses, and pours.

HEMINGWAY: Fire when ready, gentlemen.


Copyright Notice: Please respect the fact that all material in Jacket magazine is copyright © Jacket magazine and the individual authors and copyright owners 1997–2010; it is made available here without charge for personal use only, and it may not be stored, displayed, published, reproduced, or used for any other purpose.