An oldie, but a goodie. Appropos for today. Was originally written out of love for the humanity of an old musician. :)
THE SAXOPHONE MAN'S
The Saxophone Man
sits on a lawn chair at the corner of Desperate and Lost. His
tarnished instrument points the way to Heaven and his music weeps for
a tormented soul. Cottony white hair is both a crown on his ancient
head and a frame for his weary face. He hauls himself to this corner
daily seeking deliverance from the pain -- his song both a petition
and a warning.
Most days, passersby
look away and atone for their happiness by dropping money into his
battered case. They listen to the sounds, but don't dawdle lest they
catch what he suffers from. If they glance too long at his face and
catch him looking up, Saxophone Man's gaze pulls them into his
mournful red-rimmed eyes, revealing a spirit so tortured even music
can't express the depths. Mostly though, Saxophone Man's liquid brown
eyes remain downcast, painfully penitent as he plays.
skinny feet rattle around in his old shoes. Sensible socks cover his
thin ankles. His faded jean legs are rolled up one time, six full
inches, as if to avoid a sudden flood. Flood of what, is the
question? Emotion? Memory? Pain? Only the Saxophone Man knows, and
he's not talking. He wears a white cable knit sweater, an incongruous
artifact of days gone by and a more genteel life somewhere—else.
His arthritic fingers dance familiar steps on the keys of his
instrument. His right foot taps in time. One. Two. Three. Four. 4:4
The blues. Saxophone
Man plays them, plays them for a fool. Lays them down and makes them
beg. Lays them down and makes sweet love to those blues, loves them
till they're crazy from love and for love. Then he leaves those
blues, leaves them alone and hurting. Leaves them crying. Leaves them
begging for him to come back, but he never comes back.
But when Saxophone
Man plays the blues, people gather. They can't help themselves; his
blues grabs them and holds them and refuses to let go. The notes
weave, first circling the people's heads in swirling, teasing clouds
of introduction then invitation. The notes whisper in the people's
ears, promising love, promising passion, promising the world—if
just for a little while. The people let the notes into their souls,
let the music flow to their innermost private parts where it touches
them in places no one's ever been before.
The people close
their eyes—to keep them open is an insult, a sin. And the music
swells within the people, growing larger and larger, filling the
people, crowding their hearts, pulling at their tears--pushing them
out until the people want to stop listening or risk losing their
souls. And even then, the people cannot break the spell.
Saxophone Man keeps
blowing his horn. It whispers. It wails. It whines and cajoles. Magic
flows from its mouth, magical music that resonates within the very
cells of the people. The music spreads like a fog, thick and heavy.
It swirls around the people's heads and cloaks them in its spell. The
people breathe in the music-fog, their lungs fill to the brim with
the hum. The music seeps into the people's bloodstreams and resonates
all through the people's bodies until every fiber is full and
overflows and they exhale the leftover notes. The power pulls the
people in, it draws them like moths in an endless night to the
promise of a flame. It holds them tightly like a lover. People who
walk too near get seared by the heat and sanctified by the sound.
When the sun sinks
below the skyline, the keening stops and Saxophone Man sucks thin
brown nectar from a dented silver flask until it's as empty as his
soul. He gathers the money--dimes and quarters and wrinkled
dollars--and lays his horn to rest in its battered black case, then
plods back to Hell, toting the lawn chair under his arm.
One foggy morning, a
girl-child appears from the shadows. She wears a frock of vivid
colors, blues and purples and greens and oranges and reds. At first
she sways imperceptibly then her slender body flows and becomes one
with the notes. She dances unselfconsciously, leaping and spinning on
the sidewalk in front of the park bench.
Saxophone Man plays
to his Muse. His long, gnarled but nimble fingers find a song never
heard before in this world. He teases and cajoles the instrument
until an avalanche of ecstasy bursts forth that lifts the old man's
spirit. Tears stream down Saxophone Man's full mocha cheeks as his
heart fills with joy. His soul is redeemed.
A crowd forms. No
one wants to miss this miraculous moment, the flawless marriage of
lyrical dance and perfect accompaniment. Each observer hopes the
music will never end.
footsteps are so light they don't contact the cement. She floats on
the notes themselves and dances on their vibrations.
Saxophone Man's foot
slaps in time with the music. His floppy shoes keep a strange
side-to-side rhythm. Perspiration drips off his wooly old head and
saturates his thin blue cotton shirt as the music rises heavenward.
His red-rimmed eyes roll back in his head. His chest swells and
empties like a bellows.
Still, he blows his
A zephyr from the
East glides in and dances with the notes. A white man with dreadlocks
and a shirt that proclaims "Jah Know" puffs on a clove
cigarette. Its smoke joins the breeze and melds with the music.
The girl-child is
now only a colorful blur, a riot of rainbows, her features
indistinguishable. She is pure motion and emotion at the same time.
Saxophone Man blows a note with no beginning and no end – an
enduring resonance of joy. Onlookers dare not breathe. Time ceases
and nothing moves but the indistinct dancing form and Saxophone Man's
blurry brown fingers and tapping foot.
The reed splits,
rending the endless perfect note, and the man slumps forward. He
crumbles onto the cracked sidewalk; the saxophone buckles beneath his
blurry form shimmers and fades away.
The people stare.
The people are lost. The music stopped too unexpectedly; they cannot
keep up. They cannot reply, respond, react in time. Cosmic sound
still rings in the people's ears. The silence is too complete, too
awful to absorb, too terrible to consider.
A hooker with
dilated pupils skitters forward on neon green heels and drops a
rumpled bill in Saxophone Man's case. "Thass beautiful, man,"
she says, and aimlessly stumbles away.
A thick woman in a
khaki trench coat punches keys on her cell phone and calls for an
ambulance. She knows the City won't hurry for an old black street
musician. She knows the ambulance will pull in at a placid pace, its
flashing lights belying its traveling speed. She knows the workers
will go through the motions when they arrive, but they won't make the
effort. She knows she just witnessed Saxophone Man's last concert.
This knowledge, this realization of the way things are catches in her
throat and a choked sob escapes. She swallows it back down.
"I don't know
his name. He's the old Saxophone Man who plays every day in front of
the stadium. Please, hurry. I don't think he's breathing . . ."
As the power of the
music fades, its spell ceases and releases the people and one-by-one
they drift away, back to their work and their homes. They are
changed, and unchanged. They have witnessed a miracle but most remain
Unobserved by the
dwindling crowd, the girl-child gracefully extends her hand.
Saxophone Man's spirit reaches out and grasps it.