Thursday, September 22, 2005

Lee Herrick...A Thousand Saxophones

(This poem blew me away when I first read it on cafecafe and Lee Herrick's blog (see links to both blogs in my links column. He graciously permitted me to reproduce it here on my blog. Thank you, Lee!)

A Thousand Saxophones

After Hurricane Katrina — A Poem for the Living and the Dead

You can live by the water and still die of thirst.
I said you can live by the water and still die of thirst
or the worst nightmare come true:
that body of water taking over the bodies.
Sometime, tonight, see which echoes most—
a whisper or a scream. Make it something beautiful,
like, we will endure or Yes, I love you. Sometime,
tonight, think of water—how it purifies or terrifies,
cleanses, gives and takes away—think how fast
some things can rise—water, fear, the intensity of a prayer.
Officials in New Orleans said they want to save the living.
I hope they do. But I hope they can also honor the dead.
On Bourbon Street, there were over 3,000 musicians employed
on any given day. Last night, before I fell asleep,
I imagined what a thousand saxophones
would sound like if they all played together—
one thousand saxophones, different songs,
different tempos, Dixieland, Miles Davis.
Maybe it would sound like birds or bombs,
planes or preachers praising the Word
on a hot Sunday and the congregation saying Amen,
some people whispering it, some people screaming it.
Maybe it would sound like lightning tearing
open the sky or a thousand books slammed shut after
a horrible conclusion, or a thousand children crying for their
mothers or fathers. Last night, I thought, how far
would a thousand saxophones echo from New Orleans or Biloxi?
Would we hear them in Fresno? Could we imagine the sound?
Could Baton Rouge? Could Washington D.C.?
I don’t know what I should tell you.
But I feel like the saints are marching.
They are singing a slow, deep, and beautiful song,
waiting for us to join in.

Lee Herrick


Michael Parker said...

Oh God. This is exceptional, most exceptional. It should be nominated for the Pushcart Prize for Poetry.

Pris said...

It most certainly should. I don't know where Lee is planning to submit this, but I hope to a Pushcart nominating journal. I have it printed out and read it over and over last night. Not just the subject matter...the way he writes the poem. He has a real gift.

Michael Parker said...

I agree with you, Pris.

I'm trying to think of how to describe his gift. Simply, his style involves you, invites you to consider things, ask things, discover the answers. Another thought is that his subject matter seems timeless, it goes beyond the borders of the tragedy even though it's bathed in them.

Finally, good poetry does this: reaches deep within, wakes up the soul, and nourishes it with a seven-course meal. You come away from them knowing and feeling we're different, we feel changed, now from reading it. "A Thousand Saxophones" is such a poem. (You mentioned this fact in a comment to Lee as well, and I shook my head in complete agreement.)

Pris said... makes me think of those endless debates and that awful post on the Silliman blog chastising me for not liking Clark Coolidge. No-one has to convince me to love Lee's poems. They explode into my consciousness.

Michael Parker said...

Yes! Exactly--"they explode into my consciousness." Wonderful expression.