Jazz Abibiman

I
The band on stage is re-inventing physics in
blue notes & sax riffs: we watch as trumpeters blast open
the ears of night. The lead singer’s timbre swallows me whole
                            at first, then spit me out into the fields anew.
                            Protesting in walking bass may seem elitist,
                           but every sound is a sanctuary for pilgrims weary 
of history. The players are moving to the beat, beaming.
The sound is vast enough to recollect, to reconcile past tears 
with dancing feet. The sound is deep enough to contain joys, 
          to embrace, to re-echo what futures lost their lives in plantations. 
         The sound remaps underground railroads, what stories the scorching 
          heat told for years—fingers on bass strings, like a woodpecker’s, 
plucks open the routes of dance. It is spring in New Orleans 
& festivals are blooming with flowers across parks.
I am dancing. Lord, I am dancing.
Beside me, a toddler is pointing at what is left of her mom’s ice-cream,
looking intently at the cone as if it were a mirror. Maybe it is.
Or perhaps, it is a glass tinted on both sides to shield the sting of truths in spring.
The pianist on stage, hair styled like Corea’s, is telling his truths in heavy chords.
I see myself in his fingers, as in a mirror. Twisted hair, wide-eyes & plenty shoes
may be all I can give in return. 
I will keep the dance to myself. Lord, I will keep this dance.


II
It opens with a guitar solo. Synths & hi-hats set the tone for rebirth.
It is 3am & you are up with a glass of wine & a bit of rage.
Is this what relaxation means to the troubled?
The therapist recommended Blues for sleep, for yoga & daydreaming.
Doctor’s diagnosis: Acute Insomnia. The music goes to sleep before you.
The quiet night is your sibling, the raging night your friend.
See how you all get along so well.



III
To become a dictator’s archenemy, it takes a song, not a full album.
Imagine having all those rifles, bombs & grenades—yet losing a battle
to a fusion of jazz & funk. Soldiers swearing & cursing at checkpoints
in daytime, yet moving to lyrics of indictment in camps at night.
The genre is an alte government, voted in by a chorus of voices,
throbbing feet, reeds of horns numbering ten & more.
Sister says her friend’s skin is natural, only toned—not bleached.
Blotches from chemicals disagree. There’s a song for skin like hers,
a fruit, a fever so yellow, so ripe it rots from within until it yields
to the bite of ageing. On our way to the community school,
a signpost stands on a heap of garbage, erect & unmoving like a statue
in the woods ashamed of rootless shrubs.
Teacher in a room of students, like the signpost, teaches the death of reason.
Like his country, his sleeves are folded halfway.
It’s a long walk to the house of reason. But the soldiers have ordered us to crawl.
They point their guns at us & ask us to sing.
“Sing for your beloved country! Sing louder!”
When we sang, our country turned its back & walked away,
feet dripping with blood & manifestoes.




The Room

Once, I lived in a room so jealous of my dreams
it interrupted them at will.
There were invisible ears behind my bookshelf & paintings left to admire themselves,
eavesdropping on phone calls like an assistant poised to ruin prospects with gossip. 
This room, determined to undo its guest, muted songs & vocal cords.
At such hours, I could only sing outdoors. But when I walked back into the room,
my music stayed outside—alone with plants & a neighbor who like me, sang bad lyrics.
On a day when cameras watched in my absence, I returned to a playback
of whispers & no faces. In protest, I lit three sticks of incense, mocked the air
with dance & went to bed without care.
In my dream, characters from certain books on my shelf argued back & forth
on death & the quality of air. 
Ghosts affected by global warming are set to intervene.
In an alternative universe, language was a song & speakers were like cantors,
faces aglow.
I woke up to the smell of incense & morning so calm I could hear my breath whistling.
That was my first music in the room. I broke into a song.




Hills

After two weeks of humming in cacophony,
the ailing fan beside my bed has found a tune.
The hills in my room are made of broken glass
which I climb all day in search of air.
What I find is a song that leads me back to innocence,
to the whale in whose belly Jonah prayed for days.
How did he survive? I want to hear the whale’s side of the story,
to know if hills of glass erect themselves underwater.
Did it cry for days after letting the food go?
Perhaps there were silent protests in the sea, to see God’s face
as proof of notice.
 It is eve of Pentecost and the hills in my room are dripping red with wine.
I am drinking in wait of the new season, a new tune to melt this hill of glass.




Business

Low beneath the crystal chandelier, a man sits at the piano,
doing the business of sound. I think of what rays of light reveal
about his fingers: slim & tall, they dance on the keys like those
on an old typewriter. One invites ink to confess on plain papers
fixed to the machine, the other creates a world in which listeners
make sonic planets on cue. I am in the business of dancing back
at history, re-routing lies to the hammering table. There on the wall
& glass cabinets are images, carvings & sculpture. Forced as they were
to speak a foreign language, they stare back at tourists and stutter.
And when they find their voices, they want to go home.
Barenboim in Beethoven’s paradise, teacher of teachers—
swims in the pool of sound & invites me thusly:
enter into a song & stay a lifetime. Hold the keys until
they hold you back, dancing to the rhythm of your blood.
In Euba’s firmament, my fingers speak in dialects of drums
& the clanging of rattles like bells in towers calling time
by its name in song. Yet low beneath the crystal chandelier,
a man sits at the piano, doing the business of sound.

About the Author:

Echezonachukwu Nduka, poet & concert pianist, is the author of Chrysanthemums for Wide-eyed Ghosts (Griots Lounge: 2018) & Waterman (Griots Lounge: 2020). His work has appeared in Saraba Magazine, Jalada Africa, Bakwa Magazine, Transition, Sentinel Literary Quarterly, The Indianapolis Review, Bombay Review, Maple Tree Literary Supplement, 20.35 Africa: An Anthology of Contemporary Poetry Vol. II, among others. His debut poetry collection, Chrysanthemums for Wide-eyed Ghosts, was shortlisted for the Pan-African Writers Association (PAWA) Poetry Prize, He writes from Texas, USA.

Official Website: www.artnduka.com

Feature image by blauthbianca / Pixabay