Self-portrait in three colours

Self-portrait in three colours
(after Charles Mingus)

Today I want to sit my father down
in my comfortable red chair,
tell him to hold his judgement,
forget about Islam and God,

just for now dissolve all prejudice,
and tell him about my music,
my love of jazz I got from him.
But mostly talk about Mingus

whom I never heard in his house
and who like him was a bassist.
Then play him some,
not too loud, Mingus just right, loud

enough, my father can feel
the bass notes tug
under his left pectoral,
where his heart stopped six years ago,

maybe restart the thing,
beating anew, but slightly different,
to a Mingus rhythm,
sad or joyful, the bass gentle, gentle

or furious up-down the fretboard
and out of such seeming chaos
see my father smile and sigh
as he finds a melody, a standard,

washing from it all and from inside
him, like a familiar, with a trumpet
calm and precise like a rock pool –
the clear water where we swim in summer.

And he, my father, is at peace
even as he sees me roll a joint
with some good Swazi
I nod and tell him I get from a friend;

or maybe it’s hashish,
an Arabic word, I say,
and tell him how it was used
to demean the Hassasin as rabble.

And I’ll pour us some whisky
or rum, and light up
and have him toke,
sip at his drink till we sit

as if we’re long-lost friends –
over years, through nights
of narcotics and music
having become known to each other,

then lost to each other
in the confused, silent decade
of my self-estrangement,
wary of him and his God.

But here we are now.
Better get it in your soul, I say,
the bass, Mingus, that music that music
that calls you to peace

but it can also share,
I say to him,
your anger at the world.
Mingus can be your comrade.

And there’s peace in that.

As he nods and the drugs
wash through him,
as he relaxes,
I want to see him find himself

tapping a foot, his hand
around his chill glass,
with the other reach for more marijuana,
sit back freely stoned

for now peaceable in knowing
I’m his son
wayward, but in love
with the same things he loved

and be called to peace –
a night’s comradeship
I carry like an ache
here under my left pectoral,

in my head a febrile dream.



5 Responses to Self-portrait in three colours

  1. Irwan Bajang says:

    always like your poems!
    i’ll publish my new book in new year, i’ll send you a copy, bro. i’ts can make yaou study bahasa indonesia :))))))

  2. RK says:

    Irwan, Salaam-alaikum. How are you? Thanks for the comment. I look forward to your book! And (so far still in my head) I’m making plans to return to Indonesia. I want to come and do research about dukun.

  3. Mingus has come to mean as much, if not more, to me than Coltrane, and I never thought that was possible.

  4. nat says:

    All your father-poems are not afraid of hurting anybody (anymore), from the angry older ones to this one, where you dream of an impossible companionship. This, in contrast to your delicate and touching, but perhaps less effective – for us, not for your mother – lastly posted one. Do you know Wajdi Mouawad? – still an angry man: a lot of the force of his stuff comes from the imperative need to write without regard to the father figures of his world. A very different response, but the freedom that emanates from there is the same as the one that was to be found in your drug and alcohol poems. Just a thought, you might not see any connection. In any case, thank you for posting your groundwork, it’s unfailingly interesting.

  5. RK says:

    Thank you for the considered comment, Nat. And thanks for the tip re Mouawad – haven’t come across him. It sounds like we may have the same imperative – “the freedom that emanates from there” – but different catalysts.

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