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.