29. Vanguard

Here’s what I remember: Coleman Hawkins

and I are sitting at a mahogany table

in the Village Vanguard, quietly talking.

He’s finished a set in which he was unable

to summon even one unbroken tone

from the bell of his once-clarion saxophone.

But now that’s over and he feels all right.

He’s smoking because he’s wanted to all night,

drinking cloudy cognac from a tumbler

and coughing ferociously; his voice is weaker

than his cough; he’s barely audible, mumbling

to me because he knows I’m from Topeka.

He says, “That’s where I learned to tongue my horn.”

I know, and that’s the only thing I hear.

It’s 1969; in half a year

he’ll be dead. In three years I’ll be born.

— Eric McHenry

Eric McHenry received the Kate Tufts Discovery Award for his first book of poems, Potscrubber Lullabies (Waywiser Press, 2006). Waywiser will publish Eat Your Trees, his collection of children’s poems with woodcuts by Nicholas Garland, in 2011. McHenry teaches creative writing at Washburn University.

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