What comes through
in this rooftop conclusion to an old movie
         in which somebody who
clearly doesn’t know how to play it
picks up a banged-up trumpet
      to play against a light-hung screen
         meant to represent
      a metropolitan skyline

              is some sense
of the soaring and transformative strength
         of jazz. When he plants
his bandaged shoes, cocks his boyish profile
and lifts the horn to ride a gorgeous role
      of dubbed spontaneity, the effect is (despite
         that bogus clothesline at
      his back, with its one limp sheet)

those high, ramping notes speak of daring,
         the flutter-tongued vibrato of
diffidence, and the whole of unformed
invention, wound still in the horn’s warmed-
      up cerebric densities. Indeed, so fine
         is the music, even his
      acting’s better for it and as the camera pans in

              on the sure
kiss at the tiny mouthpiece, you might
         almost believe that here
is a man whose upper lip burns, night
after night, in the effort
      to make unpremeditation look
         easy. Although he’s
      turning his back on the city, his music

              is a gift
to its boxed-in inhabitants: the loose,
         looping melodies waft
over the roof’s edge, falling,
and, in falling, joining
      that collected world of objects you’ve watched
         falling on film—all
      the briefcases and rifles and bottles pitched

              from tower
and cliff-top, the beribboned packets
         of love-letters lofted over
the rails of ocean liners, the open buckets
of paint, the key rings and miner’s flashlights,
      the flying anvils and leather-upholstered
         convertibles and sun
      hats and muddied sacks of gold… Gold

              as the moon
ought to be, the pounded streets, the lumpen
         heart that weights a man,
stooping his shoulders—just that fleeting,
flyaway color are the tones tonight lighting
      off his horn. And when a slow
         coldness blows in, a gold-
      to-blue harmonic shift, oh

              he’s dying
up there with the fit sweetness of it,
         digging hard, as with a shovel, going
deep for the ultimate, most intimate
strain in his chest. The multi-storied, tight-
      plotted metropolis at his feet,
         coruscating all the more
      for the yearnings he lays upon it,

              would topple
if he hurled his trumpet at it.

This Issue

February 28, 1985