It wasn’t his bridge, of course.

It wasn’t even his city, and it certainly wasn’t

his world. It’s your world, jazz music says,

I’m just living in it. And the world’s a workshop.

 

Sonny was different, though. Even for one

we’d call young gifted & black without being

bromidic. Sonny heard so much but mostly

only listened to himself, waiting and creating

his own kind of way, expressing everything.

 

How do we describe the kind of man already

in rarified air deciding he wasn’t high enough

(having already eschewed the artificial ecstasy

that ruins veins and soils brains, Body and Soul)?

 

This colossus, keeping his own council, split

his apartment to set up shop in the crow’s nest

of the Williamsburg Bridge, perhaps the one

place aside from the Arctic Circle where no one

could see or hear history being picked apart

like a carcass, and then reassembled in real time.

 

Three years of this. Almost a thousand days

while the world spun, the cash registers rung,

and so many pretenders to the throne ascended

for lack of better options. Sun turned to snow

and dawn turned to dark and there were still

all those sounds: a style being tweaked, a gift

being refined, an experiment being improvised.

 

The quest for vision, it’s said, will make

otherwise steady men see outlandish sights:

as they deprive themselves of human fuel

they become something at once less & more

than a vessel; the spirits speak to and through

them and once that barrier is broken, one sees

oneself changed, then begins changing the world.

 

(*In 1959, feeling pressured by his unexpected rise to fame, Rollins took a three-year hiatus to focus on perfecting his craft. A resident of the Lower East Side of Manhattan with no private space to play, he took his saxophone up to the Williamsburg Bridge to practice alone.)

 

Sean Murphy

Sean Murphy has appeared on NPR’s “All Things Considered” and been quoted in USA Today, The New York Times, The Huffington Post, and AdAge. His work has also appeared in Salon, The Village Voice, The New York Post, The Good Men Project, Memoir Magazine, and others. His chapbook, The Blackened Blues, is forthcoming from Finishing Line Press. He has twice been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, and served as writer-in-residence of the Noepe Center at Martha’s Vineyard. He’s Founding Director of 1455 (www.1455litarts.org). To learn more, please visit seanmurphy.net/ and @bullmurph.

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