Wednesday

Dec. 14, 2005

In memory of George Lewis, Great Jazzman

by Lou Lipsitz

WEDNESDAY, 14 DECEMBER, 2005
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Poem: "In memory of George Lewis, Great Jazzman" by Lou Lipsitz from Seeking the Hook: New & Selected Poems. © Signal Books. Reprinted with permission.

In memory of George Lewis, Great Jazzman

1

Man is the animal that knows
the clarinet

     makes his living
on the docks, a stevedore,
110 lbs., carrying what loads
he can

the Depression comes along,
his teeth rot, no money, and
he has to accept silence

2

Thirteen years
later
     they put the instrument
back together
     with rubber bands
bought him
new teeth
     and then he began

----------I----C----E
------E-------------------I
----C----------------------C
---I-------------------------E
----C---------------------C
------E------------------I
----------I----C----E
--C------------------------C

-----R------------------R

--------E------------E

-----------A------A

-------------M-M


--------------E-----R----------------------------------A-----V
--------V------------------T--------------------W------------------E
-O--------------------------------H-----E-----------------------------------S


--M---------------------------------------T
---Y-------------------------------------I
-----B---------------------------------N
-------U-------------------------------I
---------C---------------------------E
-----------K------------------------L
-------------E---------------------O
---------------T'-----------------H
-----------------S-G-O-T----A



One song they say

     was pure
uninhibited joy
words
     cannot tell you

     survived so long
in those empty jaws

3

He lived and died
there.
Had a New Orleans funeral.

Leading the mourners
his old friends' band
trudged
     to the cemetery, heads
down, trombones scraping
the ground, slow tones of
"Just a Closer Walk..."
helping to carry
     the solemn mud
of their steps.

Graveside,
     words said, tears fallen,
they turned
     to walk back;
a few beats on the big
drum, then soft plucking
of a banjo string—
     in another block
the clarinet wailed
and then suddenly they were
playing
     "The Saints..." full blast
and people jumped
and shouted and danced
just as he'd known they would.

4

Alright. There is a frailness
in all our music.
Sometimes we're broken
and it's lost.
Sometimes we forget
for years it's even in us, heads
filled with burdens and smoke.
And sometimes we've held
to it and it's there,
waiting to break out
walking back from the end.


Literary and Historical Notes:

It was on this day in 1900 that the physicist Max Planck published his theory of quantum mechanics, which is often considered one of the most radical scientific discoveries of the 20th century.

Max Planck was working in a laboratory in 1900, heating up various substances and examining the color of light they emitted when they reached certain temperatures. He wanted to describe his results in mathematical terms, but no matter how hard he tried, his mathematical calculations didn't make sense. The only way he could fix the problem was to assume that light travels in little packets, like bullets, even though this seemed impossible.

But five years later, Albert Einstein took Planck's theory of light seriously, and wrote his first major paper exploring the idea of light traveling in packets, which he called photons. Even though he became better known for his theory of relativity, it was Einstein's work expanding on Planck's original ideas about light that won him a Nobel Prize. Einstein later said, "I use up more brain grease on quantum theory than on relativity."

With the discovery of quantum mechanics, physicists found that subatomic particles were by nature unpredictable. If you shot one across the room, you could guess where it might end up, but you could never be sure. This idea made Einstein miserable. He famously said, "I am at all events convinced God does not play dice."

Today quantum mechanics remains one of the most mysterious and difficult scientific theories ever. The Danish physicist Niels Bohr once said that a person who was not shocked by quantum theory did not understand it, and the physicist Richard Feynman once said that while only a modest number of people truly understand the theory of relativity, no one understands quantum mechanics.

Max Planck himself died in 1947, and he never came to fully accept the theory he discovered. But even if few people really understand it, quantum mechanics led to the development of modern electronics, including the transistor, the laser, and the computer.


It's the birthday of novelist and short story writer Shirley Jackson, born in San Francisco (1919). She's the author of the memoirs Life Among the Savages' (1953) and Raising Demons (1957), as well as her famous short story "The Lottery" (1948).


It's the birthday of the short story writer Amy Hempel, born in Chicago, Illinois (1951). Her newest collection Dog of the Marriage came out last March (2005).


Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®

 









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