Photo of Flagstaff, Arizona‘The Day Louis Armstrong Died’ by Martin Hill Ortiz The Society June 10, 2020 Beauty, Poetry 6 Comments My father wore his sorrow like a hundred millstone weight. I seldom saw him angry and I never saw him hate. And though he dressed for mourning, I only saw him cry Once in anguish, once for love, and once when Louis Armstrong died. This song is for a miner’s son, sung in a minor key; Whose purposes and promises for life would never be. Some dreams he’d given up on and still others he denied. And all of them returned to him the day King Louis died. When time was once upon a time, when blue moons bloomed In June of 1950 he became the perfect groom. He promised half-formed dreams beneath his half-closed lids. They disembarked and for their mark left half a dozen kids. In June of sixty-eight my mother took the kids away. I saw my father kneel and sob, begging her to stay. He died that afternoon even though his body lived. He took to drink with the creed: forget first, then forgive. In summer seventy-one on our annual vacation When our meetings were constrained to rights of visitation. We headed off to Flagstaff, to see his boyhood town. Even the asphalt sweated as the desert sun beat down. We walked beside the railroad tracks where once he’d gathered coal. Along the desert’s rim we found a rattler’s sun-bleached skull. He took us to the tenement where he and grandma stayed. He drove us by the gravel pit where as a child he played. That night outside our cheap motel a neon scribble shone While from the local FM station country music droned. Then the deejay’s voice broke in saying Louis Armstrong died. I watched as for the second time I saw my father cry. I can only half-suppose the bond between the two: The trumpet blown with lively notes ransomed from the blue. Perhaps the rhythms carried him back to a land of dreams When life stepped in rhythm and love was what it seemed. But this world isn’t for the faint: and when his heart attacked He coughed up blood and downed more drink to fight his demons back. Once as he filled his whiskey glass, he wept for where he’d sunk, And asked me if it hurt to have a father who’s a drunk. The human soul is only built to hold so many notes. My father’s breath became a fist, it clenched inside his throat. No, this world isn’t made of mercy: so when my father died I looked into his casket but somehow I couldn’t cry. An angel is an angel still, by any other name. There’ll be no more excuses when we find we’re all the same. The reasons to strive for heaven are the people that we’ll meet: With Louis playing trumpet and my father at his feet. Martin Hill Ortiz is a researcher and professor at the Ponce University of Health Sciences in Ponce, PR where he lives with his wife and son. He has three novels published by small presses: A Predatory Mind (Loose Leaves Publishing, 2013), Never Kill A Friend, (Ransom Note Press, 2015), and A Predator’s Game (Rook’s Page, 2016). NOTE TO READERS: If you enjoyed this poem or other content, please consider making a donation to the Society of Classical Poets. NOTE TO POETS: The Society considers this page, where your poetry resides, to be your residence as well, where you may invite family, friends, and others to visit. Feel free to treat this page as your home and remove anyone here who disrespects you. Simply send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Put “Remove Comment” in the subject line and list which comments you would like removed. The Society does not endorse any views expressed in individual poems or comments and reserves the right to remove any comments to maintain the decorum of this website and the integrity of the Society. Please see our Comments Policy here. CODEC News:Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on WhatsApp (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to share on Pinterest (Opens in new window) 6 Responses Rob Crisell June 10, 2020 A powerfully moving poem. Some of the images will stay with me for a while. Your poem immediately reminded me of Eliot’s lines from “Preludes”: “I am moved by fancies that are curled / Around these images, and cling; / The notion of some infinitely gentle / Infinitely suffering thing.” Well done. Reply Susan Jarvis Bryant June 10, 2020 I like the pace and rhythm of this heartfelt poem which rapidly unfolds into a truly moving story. Mr. Crisell is spot on with his comment on the images portrayed. I love the musicality of “… blue moons bloomed/In June…”. I only have one complaint – the sob in my chest and my streaked mascara. Reply Joan Erickson June 10, 2020 Great Poem! Brought tears, Brought back memories of the songs. Reply TONYA A MCQUADE June 10, 2020 A beautiful tribute – so moving! It reminded me of a few years ago, when I was in New Orleans and stumbled upon the Louis Armstrong exhibit at the New Orleans Jazz National Historic Park. His music definitely touched many, for a variety of reasons. You capture that well in your poem. Reply Jasmine June 11, 2020 Touched my heart–took me along to a journey and I could see it all Reply Martin Hill Ortiz June 17, 2020 As you may have suspected, it is from a true story. The only minor detail that I invented is that my father gathered coal from along the railroad tracks. That’s a detail from a Louis Armstrong biography (he gathered coal that had fallen from train transports and took it home to keep warm). My father did show me the humble home he lived in in Flagstaff, near the railroad track and, knowing how cold Flagstaff could get, I transplanted that anecdote. I’ve recited this poem at poetry readings and slams, and sometimes I break down. This is a recent, non-rhyming poem about my father: My father is the splinter I grew my flesh around; The wooden spit that holds my meat and bones. I could never be a man until I learned That a drunk lying on the Floor can stand taller than a lectern. Reply Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYour email address will not be published.CommentName* Email* Website Notify me of follow-up comments by email. Notify me of new posts by email. Δ This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.