What a Wonderful World

What a Wonderful World
Detail from Satchmo (Louis Armstrong) (Work No. 899), handcolored etching and photogravure by Adi Holzer (2002), from Wikimedia Commons.

This is one of a series of poems exploring the life and work of jazz pioneer Louis Armstrong.

After Louis Armstrong

The melody sounded like twinkle twinkle’s

great uncle oompah loompah: “I see trees

of green . . .” Label wasn’t seeing the same

green cause they only offered me 5 c-notes,

which was just a bunch of skimpy blue notes

record execs tossed my way. See, Daddy-O

this was the late 60s and so was I, chronic/

logically, speaking. I’d recently been subjected

to a drop-dead trumpet discussion. Quack’s

saying I had to cut it out. Cut what out?

My playing? Might as well sever my tongue

because that’s what my horn had come

to be. I sat mute imagining them imagining

my throat a backed-up toilet. Maybe a soup

spoon fell in it, then them putting a mute

to its proper use, driving a plunger into

my wind pipe, thinking they’re unclogging

some stopped up crap, not realizing my throat

was just congested with musical nuances. See,

they didn’t just want my sound altered or

softened they wanted it gone: my horn’s

shit and sweet talk; its chatter, shout

and ramble. My “Hello Dolly” felt more

like “Goodbye Daddy,” after that.

But that’s when that “What a Whatever . . .”

that sheet music started crackling in

my palms, got me thinking about Corona,

my neighborhood. (“I see friends shaking

hands . . .”) I took union scale so strings

could be attached and sessions squeezed in

to get the fruit juice out of the music: the tang

and the rind. No horn. no scat. Just me crooning.

And for once I stuck to the melody like off-white

sticks to rice (and maybe a few beans, too).

My voice a bullfrog, midleap, a rusted, gutbucket

ribbit, beneath it them strings: mosquitoes gliding

just out of reach of my croak. They were thinking

my tongue was sizing them up for supper

but it just wanted to unleash a song.

Think about it, between takes, my lips

wasn’t wondering if them strings

(beans or otherwise) would be part

of some banquet. No my tongue just

wanted to backflip and interrogate

my throat: “What’s so Wonderful? These

lyrics are like Pops’ Benedict Arnolds?

All them 1-nighters? He had pneumonia

a few months back.” Still, my voice: a castle

of passion recording those 12 inches

of optimism; in that studio, that uterus,

nurturing that embryo, giving birth to that

ballad. But instead of from between my legs

(with them very close veins) it came from

between my lips; instead of pounds and ounces;

we weighed it in minutes and seconds. 2:09

to be exact. We snipped the umbilical

cord on the Tonight Show. (“I hear babies

cry. I watch them grow.”) Some called

my newborn mushy, claptrap schmaltz

and mugly—meaning musically ugly—

but I brought my baby on-stages and back

stages, cuddled my bundle of joy. Breath

fed it ’til it climbed to the top of the British

charts. English mothers and fathers made

babies listening to my baby. 600,000 copies.

My baby became my may I kiss the bride

ballad; my: I now pronounce you man

and music. And after that my lips

stopped scolding my throat as I sang

“bright blessed days . . .” Honestly, every

night before I’d hit the stage I would

crouch in the wings, inhale an entire

audience through the bell of my horn,

their every breath; then, spend the next

hour and change blowing it back to them

as syncopated air. “Now I sing just

as well. What A Wonderful World.”

Because it truly was. “Oh yeah!”  

shortlink: dogb.us/world



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