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Temple Cone

About this Poet:
Temple is a poet from Annapolis, Maryland.

This poem won $25 in the 2009 Free April Poetry Contest.

Epithalamion with Charles Mingus’s Black Saint and the Sinner Lady Playing Through It

Love doesn’t want an explanation, but it hungers
For music to set it on the path of righteousness,

So start with a precise, midrange tempo, the theme played
Over and over, as if the band were trying to get it right,

As if the song were a lover’s quarrel about the best place to live:
A small valley that feels big, where you can raise donkeys,

Or a great good place with the Harmony Bar nearby,
Soul food and Charles Mingus on the jukebox,

Where Mingus’s Black Saint and the Sinner Lady is playing even now,
Sublime sounds spliced with outtakes and overdubs—

In one recording, you hear Mingus shouting at the pianist
To Play the right song!— then that broken melody

Graces you back into time, back into the great good life
You’ve been trying to live all along, not by yourself,

But with this other, this beloved, for each is beloved as the other,
And the song's an hour-and-a-half conversation

In an Upper East Side coffee shop, where for once the talk is not
About work or school, books or movies, but about the two of you,

The warm, cadenced voice that pulls people close,
The soft hair smooth as the wood of an old jazz guitar,

A talk so good you write down every word on a cocktail napkin
You never throw away, flimsy flag of the heart’s surrender,

So that now, at the end, when the band comes back
To the theme that got it started, the arrangement’s the same

Notes in the same places, a reminder that love must stick
With the path it makes in life—Play the right song!

But underneath that repetition, one cosmic difference: O Beloved,
Once you’ve mastered the theme, you can riff it even sweeter than before.

Copyright ©2009 by Temple Cone