25 September, 2009


Whenever I saw Harry Flatt pumping notes
through his tuba, the clump of them
taking off like a gooney bird
plopping on his gold epaulettes,
and Harry hopping to keep in step
in the homecoming parade,
I knew the sky had opened
for redemption, for all of us,
for the droolers and nose pickers,
even Harry who would crawl up to heaven
on all fours, or get sucked up, his hair
standing like a corn crop.
And the band marked time
(notes slicked down like an old Ford
stuck in second gear, except
they weren't stuck and jolted on)
in whites and reds as red
as fireplugs, until it broke
up at Howard's where sodas
spilled over glass, and everyone
laughed like hussars.
It was forty or forty-one when
the letters came, typed up from the board,
and the whole band signed up,
even Harry Flatt, hair rising
like an expectation
and the war kissed them,
even the sophisticates
from Leopard Hill and Lafayette,
laid them down like children and spread
an eternity of white crosses
like corn seed
in longer and longer rows and the birds
flew north, whole flocks of them,
and never stopped,
not even for crumbs.

~~ George Ellenbogen