Pinocchio Plays the Cotton Club

So how can I be real, Pops?
he asks the puppet maker.
Joe Petto exhales a long reefer
stream while reaching under
his workbench for the velvet-lined
case. Removing the gleaming brass
trumpet, he flexes the valves
and places the instrument
between the dark mahogany
fingers of his carved-son.

It won’t come soon and it won’t
be easy, he tells the wooden lad.
But with time and effort,
and hard work mixed-in
with a splinter or two,
you can reach the real, taste
it and maybe even become it.

13 Years Later:
After 2:00 a.m. only the diehards
are still in the club;
onstage he’s fronting his back-up
of broken toy jazzy dreamers.
He leads them through some
Coltrane, then lifts into Miles Davis
followed by a run of Marsalis.

Without warning, he drops the room
into uncharted waters with
his own piece: as his solo
climbs higher and higher, even
the club’s smoke stands still
to watch and appreciate and begin
to fall in love.

He’s not there yet, not completely,
but getting oh so closer, near
enough to feel it rising in
his darkwood fingers, hear it
in his ears and sense it in his soul.
He’s confident now that he’ll taste
it and become one with it, still
as wooden a figure as the day
he was built, but now just as real as
the journey and the moment
and the sound.

For my father, Malcolm Gordon

—Alan Ira Gordon