On Bourbon Street

On Bourbon Street someone

in a blue tee-shirt Southern

Christian Baptist bookseller’s convention logo

holds an electrified cross shouting

“Repent sinners, Jesus is the way…”

on red light emitting diodes beaming

banner headlines while twelve teens

in the same tee-shirts

look at tourists from Iowa

holding plastic-cupped Hurricanes

and wonder at the taste

of that forbidden grenadine.


Meanwhile, one street crosswise,

a drum, piano, banjo, bass,

trombone, trumpet, clarinet septet

preserve, persevere, sever true words

and music from the verity of time

in a hall as small as my garage,

enmeshed in pegboard on which hang

saints who marched in, then out

of a world made better by their songs;

above them, the only real icon in this

holy of holies being the image

of one trombone player forming a T

out of his instrument and torso

while below, the sacred seven

scream and whisper and moan and promise

“I ain’t gonna study war no more,”

to congregations of true listeners

caught in the eternal jazz gumbo

where creation and time meet

in one last crucified intersection

like the one made by a trumpet

and clarinet playing close and hot

in the heartbeat rhythm of holy blood.

— Paul Totah


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