On 52nd Street

Philip Levine

 
Down sat Bud, raised his hands,
the Deuces silenced, the lights
lowered, and breath gathered
for the coming storm. Then nothing,
not a single note. Outside starlight
from heaven fell unseen, a quarter-
moon, promised, was no show,
ditto the rain. Late August of '50,
NYC, the long summer of abundance
and our new war. In the mirror behind
the bar, the spirits—imitating you—
stared at themselves. At the bar
the tenor player up from Philly, shut
his eyes and whispered to no one,
"Same thing last night." Everyone
been coming all week long
to hear this. The big brown bass
sighed and slumped against
the piano, the cymbals held
their dry cheeks and stopped
chicking and chucking. You went
back to drinking and ignored
the unignorable. When the door
swung open it was Pettiford
in work clothes, midnight suit,
starched shirt, narrow black tie,
spit shined shoes, as ready
as he'd ever be. Eyebrows
raised, the Irish bartender
shook his head, so Pettiford eased
himself down at an empty table,
closed up his Herald Tribune,
and shook his head. Did the TV
come on, did the jukebox bring us
Dinah Washington, did the stars
keep their appointments, did the moon
show, quartered or full, sprinkling
its soft light down? The night's
still there, just where it was, just
where it'll always be without
its music. You're still there too
holding your breath. Bud walked out.
 
From Breath by Philip Levine. Copyright © 2003 by Philip Levine. Reprinted by permission of the author. All rights reserved. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on September 2, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

Poems by This Author

A New Day by Philip Levine
A Story by Philip Levine
Everyone loves a story. Let's begin with a house
And the Trains Go On by Philip Levine
Coming Close by Philip Levine
Take this quiet woman, she has been
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The Two by Philip Levine
When he gets off work at Packard, they meet


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