Nebraska Center for Writers

by JV Brummels

I'm standing in the door of the barn
tonight listening to jazz.
I don't understand jazz,
and I could walk to the radio
and change the station,
but I don't.
The stars are out,
and the moon'll rise soon.
I'm drinking beer and listening to jazz.
I'm thinking we're all jazz.
As soon as someone wants to understand,
we're misunderstood.
It's rhythm, or what passes
for rhythm. It's jazz,
and I'm standing
in the door looking out and up.

I think it's a matter of shirts.
At this moment, a thousand American
Lit students in libraries, dorm
rooms, on busted davenports
in over-priced tenements, are reading:
Daisy, seduced by Gatsby's
shirts. Gold and silver
shirts flung about the room.
The students want to understand
but Gatsby's misunderstood,
Daisy's misunderstood.
Their teachers have told them
It's the Jazz Age,
but the teachers have misunderstood.
I'm standing in the door, listening.

Beneath the stars a colt
lifts his muzzle and whinnies,
an angel's horn. Colts
and fillies are misunderstood,
unknown, more so than horses
that already are more or less
what they will always be,
brilliant or merely dependable,
star or barn. We don't yet
understand colts, colts are still
largely unknown, still largely to be,
like a shirt that's not been worn.
Down a hundred halls grown
men will walk tomorrow
with sheaves of papers and books
stacked against their hips wondering,
is this a fit profession
for a grown man? Wondering,
should I have stuck with basketball?
The service? They'd be colonels
or sergeants and retired long ago
on good pensions, or at least coaches.
Or stayed with the trumpet or sax.
Right now they'd be standing on stages
in smoky clubs playing their angel horns
to young women of adventuresome spirit.

A friend wrote that her colleague, a gentle
man of open gender, has disappeared.
What drama! Here, hardly anyone
disappears. I am drinking beer,
thinking of the coming winter. I am
thinking of the coming winter's
poker games, how cards is an education.
No, how winter is an education
and cards just the text we study,
how that more than understand
we want to experience
the endlessly various riffs.

And I'm thinking I am around too many
young women of adventuresome spirit.

And I am thinking a farmer recreates
the old country, but a rancher
is a native American who recreates
what he's seen on a movie screen.

And I am thinking of the jack of spades
cut from a fresh deck
and a few new dimes,
some old nickels,
quarters bright as asters,
halves and greenbacks
stitched across a dark oilcloth

I am drinking beer
standing in the door of the barn
listening to jazz, listening
to the colts whinny and snort
like a heavenly host.
I am looking up at stars
bright as new dimes.
I think I understand
when the moon rises
like a hole card

Reprinted with permission
from The Cheyenne Line
Copyright © 2001
by JV Brummels
Backwaters Press

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