“Mingus Mingus” By Francois Peloquin

Mingus Mingus

Poem by Francois Peloquin

Art by Debbie Liang

The man leading
the blonde through the bar 
by the small of her back,
the one humming 
Paper Moon soft in her left ear,
he’s a madman.

In the pockets of his overcoat he keeps
a crow, the reed from a fallen saxman’s horn,
enough cash for two Mingus Tijuana nights, 
four arrowheads blessed by voodoo saints,
and a pound of black pepper tied up 
in a red silk kerchief.

Stalking New York alleyways and Albuquerque dives 
his fingers feel for the notes on the neck
of the longbow strapped to his chest;
later, he’d drink chicken blood 
from a steel goblet to survive 
he could play piano too.

My father never told me about Mingus Mingus,
only about Ray Charles and The Beatles.

If you could hear him:
The calliope lost at the fair.
Notes caught in poplar down and Massachusetts red oak leaves.
If you could hear him:
The scramble of dusty palms beneath the border-line.
The yell of the condemned beneath the Jim Crow man’s boot.
If you could hear him:
Burning bar fights alone.
Wine fists swinging at nothing at all. 
If you could hear him:
The way he spoke to the crow and the girl at the night’s end. 
The way he sang a little. 
The way he drank champagne and told fortunes in the dregs of strangers’ drinks. 
The way he listened to the shrapnel of the empty bar,

the hollow room
he’d shaped from music.