James Cobb, the drummer on
Kind of Blue with the Miles Davis Sextet
Died last year. I bought the album
When I was twelve years old,
Browsing in a record store, new to jazz,
Intimidated by the endless rows of records
Until an older stranger (he must have been all of twenty)
Reached into the confusion without hesitation,
Without searching, and withdrew an album,
A hipster magician conjuring a bright talisman
From the chaos. “You’ll like this,” he said
As he placed it in my hands.

I remember the opening of the first song, “So What,”
How James Cobb’s cymbal crash at the start of Miles’ solo
Seemed to vibrate forever, resonance of creation
Tearing a passage through the walls of childhood
Into a world of mystery, desire, and creativity.

That was a long time ago,
But I remember that day,
Just as I remember how
Learning of his death
Left me feeling
Irrevocably diminished.

I have those feelings often now,
As if my life is steadily contracting.

It contracts with each death
Of a man or woman whose music
Nourished me, with the deaths of poets
Whose words shaped me, of artists who
Taught me to see, of lovers who
Understood needs older than thought.

My life contracts with the absence
Of people I’ve known,
Parents and teachers,
Friends and colleagues lost
To death or neglect.
It contracts with health’s decline,
With legs that can no longer carry me
Through the foothills I once walked.
It contracts with time wasted
In doctors’ waiting rooms.

But as life contracts, it also
Surges forward, like a river
Accelerating between a gorge’s
Narrowing walls, passions
Intensified by age, breathtaking
Rapids, currents of longing
For poems and stories
I have yet to write, for songs
Struggling to escape
My limits as a musician,
For discovery, for experience,
Currents of love for those still
Near me.

All these sustain me,
As if the stranger’s gift had finally
Revealed its deeper purpose.

As I pass through time’s funnel,
The turbulence tears away years of pretense,
Of regret, of self-doubt.
It tears away the false, the valueless,
The twin prisons of culture and desire,
Until what remains flows
Unhindered through a final closure,
Into a cymbal’s incandescent shimmer.

About William Stubblefield

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