Three Poems by Francis Fernandes

These three poems by Francis Fernandes are the accidental outcome of aimless reflection, doggedness, and time. And so that’s what they happen to be about, too. Looking deep enough into the past and present, and into the fascinating harmonic interplay of human relationships, one is bound to make all sorts of weird and wonderful discoveries. Life is like an old movie you come back to again and again: you see things differently all the time. What we can never see, though, is the BIG picture and so, like Hamlet – and all the jazz greats – say, “The readiness is all!” 

by: Francis Fernandes

Fleeting

My heart is heavy 
since my mother told me 
they sold the ballpark
to speculators. That’s where 
I got my only ever extra-base hit. 
The timeless diamond scuffing my shoes, 
filling my uniform with the scent of earth. 
The outfielder took his sweet old time 
with my soft seeing-eye grounder, 
and I stretched a single into a double. 
The way you might slip a pack of M&M’s 
into your pocket as the clerk serves a customer,
or ducks under the counter for that fleeting second. 
Slid head-first. What did I know? That’s how 
they did it in the majors. I actually remembered 
to call time before dusting myself off. 
It was my moment. My mother hears 
about these things from a friend of a friend. 
Neither of us lives there anymore. She needs 
her special care, in her special home. 
One day I’ll need mine, too, I guess.
Maybe it isn’t true – about the ballpark
and the speculators. She says one thing, 
and then the next day she doesn’t remember.
I’m lucky if she can hear me. I call her up 
once a week. I’m selling my time
half-way around the planet, in a world
that has no clue about baseball. Sometimes
I don’t know what I’m doing here. It could be
that story about the ballpark is just a figment
of her fragile mind. Still, I can’t help it,  
I’m all choked up. I see them hauling 
away the rickety stands like yesterday’s 
junk. Cracked wood and rusty steel. 
Like an antique wardrobe from the attic
no one visits anymore. I thought monuments 
lasted forever. I thought she’d always 
be there. It hits me now. Like a line-drive 
to my industrious head. She is the door
to those hallowed scenes. She took 
me to those games, always 
cheered me on. She 
was my biggest fan.   
Holiday

A crisis is ugly, but like a virus 
it doesn’t know that. It just tries to spread
some soul – its raison d’être – the only way 
it knows: by getting inside you. I thought 
she loved my Tourette’s. Just like I miss 
her OCD. It’s both heart-wrenching
and heartwarming at the same time
to know all parts have their special place. 
When things change, you start to doubt 
your own worth. She’s gone to her parents 
because of my crazy foot-tapping 
and the fact the cat won’t answer her pleas 
(with actual words). The Finals this year 
are the Lightning and the Avalanche. 
That only seems fitting, if you ask me. 
Calamity foretold. No, I won’t watch
now that she’s not here. Or maybe I will. 
I’m not sure. If you asked me to pick 
between hockey and jazz, the first sticks 
I’d reach for are the drumsticks. I love 
the game, but I need the music. Power-plays
and odd-man rushes might well have 
their own rhythm; and a perfectly-timed 
hip-check can be as startling and lovely 
as a C major to E-flat minor key change.
This is true. But the beat of jazz has lived
inside all of us since time immemorial – 
even before we knew what a crisis was. 
When the firm decided to target our lot 
(sadly, we can’t keep everyone; orders 
from the top), I didn’t panic. I was tired 
of the media hype and the way we drank it 
all up, like the bloody fascination for a road 
accident. Like a film within a film. Hadn’t 
this whole distancing charade lasted long 
enough, though? All this washing our hands 
of our odious deeds. Because, really, 
this is how it should be (at least it’s how 
I see it): 

We’re at the Village Vanguard, say – 
or maybe the Jazzhus Montmartre 
in Copenhagen, where Dexter Gordon, 
Art Blakey, and all those soldiers of mercy
once played. It doesn’t matter. Wherever. 
But there I’d sit, with a cold glass 
in one hand, without even drinking it,
close enough to see the sweat rolling 
down the drummer’s temples (the other side 
of those hallowed halls where 
all those eight-beat rhythms and other miracles 
are born). You can’t see the sticks, though, 
they’re moving so fast. All the while 
the double-bass is listing to port, 
to starboard, then back again, like a thumping
sail buffeted by furious ocean winds. And 
the piano is banging out glittering notes 
like the hot stars above our heads – high 
above our walls and moods and badly-tempered
claviers. Our tiny disputed territories 
and borders. (Our vast personal hellholes!) 
And here’s the thing: they’d be playing 
Free for All or: Stella by Starlight or: It Never 
Entered My Mind or even: I Fall in Love 
Too Easily – something in any case 
from the days when we still listened. 
And, yes, she’d be there with me. 
She’d be there – and with the hand 
that’s not holding the drink, I’d reach 
for her hand under the table and together 
we’d feel something and remember 
all the times we left the door open 
and the music really came through. And 
everything was where it should be.
Improv on a Theme

I’m thinking of The Wild Bunch and how,
for most of the film, Thornton, deputized 
by the railroad to stop his former partners
in crime, stays hot on their heels. I’m 
thinking of the scene where Pike and Dutch, 
the two ex-partners, are discussing the matter:
What would you do in his place? Pike says.
He gave his word. Dutch sneers back:
Gave his word to a railroad. Pike blazes up:
It’s his word! Dutch yells back: That ain’t
what counts! It’s who you give it to! 
I can’t focus on the chord changes,
and John, the bassist, is giving me some 
side-looks. I’m a fraction of a second behind.
Marty, our drummer, keeps me honest
with his snare. He has a way to direct 
sudden blaring strikes right into my ear. 
They know I’m fumbling my way through 
the piece. They know it’s her I’m thinking
about. The audience, though, doesn’t 
seem any wiser. John is the mastermind
behind our trio. He comes to the rehearsals
with the chord charts and his brilliant ideas.
Marty and I follow his lead. The fact is,
she’s back in the picture and now she wants 
to be friends. I’m not sure that’s possible. 
I’m confused about how she can know
for sure – even after a ten-year hiatus – 
that things are over. It still troubles me 
that she left town for a better job. John
and Marty are like brothers and I tell them
everything. They prefer not to give
too much advice. They just listen. Unless
of course I were to take her up on the offer
and go see her. I might miss a gig or two. 
You somehow come to the point where 
you think life can pick up where it left off. 
Marty knows that’s foolish and the glint
in his eye after one of his sly bashes tells
me so. John adds an extra chorus to his solo 
before handing me the bridge. To show 
them I’ve caught up, I noodle around 
the principle key change and throw in
something they don’t know. John raises
an eyebrow. It’s my own pride that keeps
me stuck in the past. I know this, and yet
I do nothing about it. We play on, gig after 
gig. We eke a meagre living out of these
shows. The people sitting at the tables 
appreciate us. We can feel it in their honest
response. The reason they come to see us 
is our explosive style – that, and John’s 
ingenious transcriptions of the classics. 
It was difficult in the time of the plague 
(the way Marty refers to it). But we helped 
each other out and got through it more 
or less unscathed. Back then, she knew 
I was about to propose. And she knows 
I’m still serious. But she insists we respect 
each other’s past decisions. Meaning hers, 
I guess. She says she would accept my still 
hanging on after such a long time. That’s 
the word she used. The train left the station 
all those years ago and I ran after it and
managed to leap and I’m still hanging on. 
And she accepts that. And what does that do
for her today, I wonder, us being friends 
and everything? It’s as if Marty has read
my mind: he’s going for the brushes
in his solo. John is a bit surprised, too. 
I sit back and watch him. The toms sound 
like tall pines swaying in the Black Forest, 
and the cymbals like distant Zen chimes. 
I ask myself how you can do that. Put 
something behind you and not waste 
time doubting. Question all your past 
actions and where does that leave you? 
In the case of The Wild Bunch: dead, 
I guess. Except for Thornton, of course, 
who just rides off at the end to join 
the revolution. The question, then, is this:
How to keep up with the times? Or simply 
keep time, as John would have it. He glances 
at me, then nods and grins. I can tell
he’s not quite sure if I’ll end up doing 
justice to this piece.  

Francis Fernandes grew up in the US and Canada. He studied in Montréal and has a degree in Mathematics. Since spring 2020, his writing has appeared in over twenty literary journals, including Modern Poetry Quarterly Review, Defenestration Magazine, Saint Katherine Review, Amethyst Review, Front Porch Journal. He lives in Frankfurt, Germany, where he writes and teaches. 

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1 Comment

  1. says: Arthur Rosch

    That’s a poet who knows my jazz heart. It is simply too great a story to put down, the ins and the outs of a musician/poet and the love and the music and the love and the music that is meant to call to women to approach and give us love. Nice, nice….the brushes tap the cymbals gently at the end of the song. B flat minor, like Coltrane’s Naima.

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