Preservation Hall



Sitting front row: fear of feeling
too close; staying seated, stiff,
two feet away from the man in the middle,
the man who swipes away any lingering doubt
with the first thumb on the trumpet,
his first toot trailing through the room,
slow flight into everyone’s ears,
minds excited by the burst
breaking the quiet in the room.

The crystal call of the clarinet
and the strong blow of the trombone
permeate the space the most
but the subdued boom of the bass,
the dun dun duns of the drums,
the light ting with each strike of a piano key
all fall into the watercolor wind,
whirling together to create a concoction
for the audience, a taste of New Orleans
as potent as the Cajun crawfish,
the café beignets, the gulf gumbo.

After letting each man spice up his own dish—
the clarinetist cleansing his soul,
offering the most appetizing treat,
squeeze squeeze squeezing that magic
out of the tool in his hand,
melting his heart into mine—
the head chef, the man in the middle
closes those eyes and opens his mouth,
letting his soul, that soul guide him.

If you close your eyes, you can hear
Louis himself, a voice riding along
a bumpy road on its way out the mouth,
a voice thick as a Louisiana swamp,
thick as a sticky syrup, sweet,
smoothing out into the air,
a jazzy sap drizzled, seeping into
the dense honeyed sound of the bass,
the piano, the beat beat beat of the drum,
reminding us that time,
although slowed and savored,
passes by with each gruff growl
pushing its way out from the mouth
of the man in the middle.

Gimme your Big Easy, middle man,
your mind’s map, your days out
on Basin Street benches, warming
the seat beneath you and the bodies
of the few gathered around you,
listening to the spirit, the soul
build up inside, the voice of New Orleans
directing your own, guiding your fingers
as they cast hell out of the trumpet in your hands.

Gimme your story, your history,
the story of your city,
the story of those Basin Street days;
tell me, sing to me about the crooks,
the lawyers, the children, the dogs,
the days of milking out malaise
on Monday mornings, cultures blending
like the blare, the blow, the bounce
billowing into both my ears,
settling in my stomach,
snaking back up to the shoulders,
shaking and swaying the torso,
freeing themselves down to my feet,
which punctuate time with their

That gruff gravel voice and that Southern swing
seem to rouse the crowd, as they,
after the man in the middle has let go of Louis
(though his Louisiana soul still looms),
wake from their walk through this wonderland,
compelled, complimenting,

I let my own claps fall onto the heap
of applause, indiscernible among the rest,
but I stand entranced,
my greatest gratitude living
in the way my heart engulfs the music,
the way I refuse to let it die, the way I
swallow that soul, let it slide down,
big and easy,
into every part of my being.