Weekly Poem: ‘Johnny One Note’

BY Tom LeGro  April 30, 2012 at 12:49 PM EDT

By W.S. Di Piero

                                        (Bobby Hutcherson in Oakland)

The mallet strikes but something’s off,
and so he hits again, curling that lower lip,
purses his brow, as if this sign, this minor woe,
were speech the vibes might understand,
so when he lifts bluish lids as if wakened
to the desired tone that rings now, it seems,
it sounds, under wraps, a water-ly quaver,
through the club crowd’s silence,
as it floats above us like an aerosol
trying to find a new way to escape,
passes through the wall’s mortared pores
to reverb in the cool night air of an un-
peopled sidewalk, droning toward tracks
where a passing peopled train sucks up
and winds his finally found, wowed tone
around its wheels, held there by steel heat
one hundred miles, until it reaches the sea,
where wheels and whistle overreach
surging surf the good vibration feels
such desire for, and leaves its tedium
of the round and round, lofting to a sea
that comes and goes but finally simply goes,
as one night, this night, the cool vibes’ air
(struck finally in the changed groove of sax
and ecstatic kit) is free, finally free,
to go where we won’t hear from it again.

W.S. Di PieroW.S. Di Piero is a professor emeritus of English at Stanford University and has published 10 books of poetry, including most recently “Nitro Nights” (2011, Copper Canyon Press), as well as five essay collections.

He recently spoke to Jeffrey Brown after winning the 2012 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize.