for Charlie Parker

The sunlight burned your eyes as you stood
in the doorway of the California sanitarium,
New York, New York three thousand miles away
and this your first morning of new freedom.
Gulls fly out over the water, the coast open
and unoccupied, too early, too frigid for swimmers,
and the birds swoop over the blue ocean, blue
as any note you’ve ever played, a sea of sharps
and flats in this ever-wavering plain that shifts
like the flocks above it, their circles, their whirls,
patterns in the cloudless sky only you can recognize,
well, you and every bird that’s come before you
or is yet to be born, generations in flight and still
to fly, those yet to crack a shell, who will fling
themselves out of the nest and into this seemingly
dizzy cacophony which makes so much more sense
than anything you were told, anything you were given
behind the closed door at your back.




for Chet Baker
I’ve only seen him in black and white photos,
his gaunt cheekbones shadowed in the stills,
his hair slicked like James Dean’s, forelock falling
over his pensive eyes, another thin white boy
with a haunted look and a vulnerable neck.

He holds the horn like a treasure,
and it is—value beyond calculation—
but it’s a tool, too, a conduit
to translate his cool grief
to us, the lines of his melodies
and counter-melodies like so many
California freeways, intersecting
underpasses and overpasses, traversing
over dry brown ground, coursing between
mountains on one side and an ocean
on the other. I imagine Chet behind

the wheel, an open window, his lean arm
leaning on the sill, his trumpet
in a hard-shelled case beside him
on the passenger seat. He’s humming
not smiling, not frowning, his voice hushed,
and his eyes are focused on the rear view
mirror. I catch them, just for a moment,
as the hood of the big sedan, an Impala, yes,
or an El Dorado, noses onward, points the way,
forward, always forward, moving faster
even as the traffic builds around us and threatens
to make us crawl.
~  ~  ~

mcdermottJohn A. McDermott lives in Nacogdoches, Texas, where he coordinates the BFA program in creative writing at Stephen F. Austin State University.  His work has appeared most recently in Cobalt, Right Hand Pointing, and Southern Humanities Review. His first poetry collection, The Idea of God in Tennessee, is forthcoming from Aldrich Press. This is his second appearance in the museum of americana.