That whole wet summer, I listened to Louis Armstrong.
Imagined him arriving in New York after Funky Butt
dance halls, wearing hick clothes: those
high-top shoes with hooks, and long
underwear down to his socks.
Thought of him shy in a slick, new band, locked
for two weeks reading the part he was set,
until the night when Bailey on clarinet
took over an old song. Then Louis’ horn
rose in harsh, elated notes,
phrases he’d invented on riverboats
and ratty blues tonks, using all the sinews
of his face and muscle of his tongue.
And what delights me now
is when he grinned to thank
the crowd that stood to clap, he saw
slyly from the corner of his eye
all the stingy players in the band
were sitting motionless, their tribute
only an astonished sigh.
The English poet Elaine Feinstein has published 16 collections of poetry, 15 novels as well as radio plays, television dramas, and five biographies, including Anna of All the Russians, a life of Anna Akhmatova (2005). She has received many awards, including a Cholmondeley Award for Poetry, and an Honorary D.Litt from the University of Leicester where she grew up. Her most recent book of her own poems is Portraits (Carcanet, 2015).