Jason Baldinger

A special thank you to Jason Baldinger, who was this issue’s guest editor.

dial s for sonny

I: sonny’s crib

through the grease of midnight windows
the redwood inn hotter than a blast furnace
the piano player plays stride boogie woogie blues
patrons sweat in swelter, shake their wicked knees. pelvis on pelvis grinding
misbehaving under dim bulbs, a weeks work wearing out
forgetting itself in gyrations and groping
all those frustrations goin’ down in the ministration of cheap liquor
the smile on the piano players face shines. pint of gin wobbles on the piano
a half full jar full of dimes shakes, rings, sounds of sleigh bells

they see you out there sonny, wide eyed, waiting on the devil
they know you from around, nowhere to escape in a coal camp
this sister town, a sister to a mine shaft, scattered immigrants
crammed in company duplexes speaking scattered languages
at foreman and bosses, at a system that keeps them scattered

these folks know you, your family living in rooms above the dance hall
mother, brothers and sisters quartered together
these people know you, the mischief of children too young for work
the women see your games of tag as they drag victrolas into the yard
drop needle, swing robust hips, hang laundry on the line
everyone here knows you bang on the piano every chance you get
they know your fingers as they hit ivory. they’ve heard you practice
heard you in church race across keys nimble through spirituals full of pain
your fingers chase sounds from beautiful women’s lungs
then fall behind as the reverend’s basso profundo blares

tonight, they remember your fingers. white, black, poor miners, they want to hear them play
they invite you, coo at you, the piano player coaxes from his seat
the music calls you, we’re waiting on the devil
no gin for a boy. piano player puts you on his lap you put hands over his
he plays a couple like that, like that, you got it boy, you got it!
hands possessed, fingers blister humid yellow keys
cigarette smoke, building shakes, praise from a degenerate congregation
ooh’s and ahh’s
that’s right baby, that’s right!
yelps possessed held in sway they’re in your hands now little man
you know this is all you want from now on

you stumble upstairs exhausted, six am, mamma’s gonna tan your hide
maybe she even tries but when she grabs you, pockets jingle, stuffed with dimes
you fish handfuls, penance angry breaks to smiles
your daddy died weeks after you were born, black lung made sure thing never were right
but things are always gonna be tight ain’t no changing it

you know you can play your way out
all the dances, in church, on the radio, every chance
you’re gonna hustle, hustle down dirt roads from herminie
down dirt roads from irwin down dirt roads to pittsburgh
through night of a thousand stars, forever in wylie avenue smoke
its bars electric alive!
bop is born!

the past escapes afternoon grey
I read the landscape of wendell road
flick pictures I’ve memorized, place you where I can
on the berm, stare at a vacant lot where the redwood burned seventy years ago
up the hill, a line of houses, this is where you were born, where you lived
this lot choked by stinging nettle, knotweed chutes, plastic bags and deer shit
blue minor plays through car window, I lean against the door
wait for vision, wait for time to converge, stare through place
to try to get these ghosts to jump out from the past and dance

II: leapin’ and lopin’

sonny leads the band to the head
the steelers lost the game maybe the season
pajich and amy, silsbe and I sit in christmas light shine
we smoke dope out of a quarter inch socket
change color, tell stories
leapin’ and lopin’

horns call the theme, wander variations, cracked back on the down beat; billy higgins accent
I give bob shit for taping a quarter to his tone arm to get records to play through
he has an old 50’s console system more furniture than turntable, all wires loose
touch the treble, bass goes up
touch the volume, you get treble

charlie rouse takes first solo, trips at the end of his phrase, winds a mistake in
we’re entranced. butch warren’s two note background holds it down. it’s not hard to play
but you gotta have touch, you gotta have touch, just the slightest touch

bob can’t understand why this song isn’t famous it has a henry mancini compositional cool
that should have had white audiences begging, it should have been a hit
but with way more soul, some eternal spirit, some danger
some deep blood, some haunted dread
that deep weathered sonny clark sadness
heroin or loss? Is it the bad dreams that come as your artist
heart pinned to your sleeve bleeds across keys?

turrentine’s trumpet breaks clear blue reaches staccato
bob almost lost all his records in wilkinsburg one night
he forgot them on his roof, didn’t notice them missing
until he crossed the bridge to take when things get serious
he turned around, found them strewn across the road
no one hit them, no one touched them
I look at the cover see a pavement scrape

sonny clears space, all finesse, keys coaxing blues in note flurries
higgins works wood block
we are stoned lost
lost in tone
lost in a geography of grooves
witchcraft out of seventy year old speakers

we geek out, favorite players, born from this, sparked by this
I’m riding high, the other night my ears touched a second press
john coltrane’s blue train, sonny plays on it
pretty, heavy vinyl, deep black, petrol slick after sixty years
dead wax playlite ear winks
when needle touches groove, the sound so clear it stops my heart
bababaBa bomm bomp
bababaBa bomm bomp

turrentine, rouse call everyone back to the theme restated softer
softer softer till speaker’s hush
otis redding the cat wanders in, bumps legs a shark stalking affection
I think of a lost afternoon, lake mendota, madison wisconsin holding summer green
I careened highway loops searching for monuments
memorials to a plane crash
that killed this cat’s namesake

III: dial s for sonny

first of december unseasonably warm mist slips to rain off and on
I have time to kill. I remember an article stating sonny clark is buried
st mary’s, sharpsburg, then the pic of the tree line near the grave
I stand damp, read geography for familiar places in my dusty brain

I spent an evening here fifteen years ago with a girl, a star chart
we tried to pick out: cassiopia, ursa, orion
I can barely find one of those constellations
we paid more attention to each other than the stars that night

I think of that paris review article
harrowing moments clark and lyn halliday at w eugene smith’s place
smith in the other room develops photo’s, halliday cooks, sonny ties off
plunger starts down
sonny slips away
groans and gurgles
drool dribbles down his chin
halliday panics
the night his girlfriend brought sonny around with cpr still clear
sonny fades, halliday shouts
Sonny Can You Hear Me!
Sonny Can You Hear Me!
skin on skin slaps sonny’s face
Sonny Stay with me!

no one knows where you go, there’s a galaxy only right here
floating the bliss warm never. parallel as now. flat reality blossoms
the interdimensional fog winds a sheet across the body
we’re all waiting on the devil

sonny slowly slides back revived resurrection
pressure loaded into his body, life sparks across a spinal column, lightning centers the brain
haliday never mentions it, sonny washes sweat off his face
sonny fixes himself, rolls down his sleeve
they both split for a cheeseburger

at the hill crest
once a season you see the allegheny
now there’s only bridges, cars move here to nowhere
the long defunct henry miller steel spring factory sparks the sky
its workers shadows hang on clouds

I walk back to the car and catalog an inventory of names
germans and poles, serbs and italians, greeks and scotch irish
buried on this hill, maybe with family, maybe alone
all resting under granite, under iron bar crosses under lead pipes with concrete nubs
under ground
where you can’t tell any
of their bones

obvious now, I remembered the wrong cemetery
there’s another graveyard on the other hill
I become clouds, move with the afternoon
greenwood cemetery almost forgotten
you easily define the difference between the black and white sections
even in death the system segregates
in minutes I match the photo in my head
in this section headstones are scarce
the dates that exist match 1963
no one placed a stone, everything is approximate
I stand withered in weather, sick to my stomach

sessions dried up in 62
ike quebec, dexter gordon, grant green
you were all dried up, a shell until you sat at the piano
no surprise the last overdose came
needle in the arm forgotten harlem shooting gallery
the guy you shot up with dead too
cops didn’t give a fuck, wrapped you both
in body bags not caring which dead junkie was which
hell, you may be in a long island potter’s field
no matter who is buried here
the baroness koenigswarter
patron and refuge of the era of jazz
paid for your flight home

in sharpsburg I watch old women carry groceries
up sharps hill, as it’s been for 200 years
I count wood houses regularly washed in river

I listen to it ain’t necessarily so
gershwin rave-up in hip early sixties soul style
grant green as leader, tears across the strings
sonny solos fire
they both lock something beautiful
something spiritual
something beyond
art blakey’s thunder sticks rattle foundations
he hollers through solo’s hollers as they trade licks
he was witness!
he saw the light!
motherfucker, we hope to be this beautiful!

Jason Baldinger was recently told he looks like a cross between a lumberjack and a genie. He’s also been told he’s not from Pittsburgh, but actually is the physical manifestation of Pittsburgh. Although unsure of either, he does love wandering the country writing poems.  His newest books include: A Threadbare Universe (Kung Fu Treachery Press), The Afterlife is a Hangover (Stubborn Mule Press) and A History of Backroads Misplaced: Selected Poems 2010-2020 (Kung Fu Treachery). He also has a forthcoming book with James Benger called This Still Life. His work has appeared across a wide variety of print journals and online. You can hear him read his work on Bandcamp and on lp’s by The Gotobeds and Theremonster.