J. Stephen Rhodes

Herbie Mann at the Village Gate

Spring, 1965


Sure, you can hear people talking now and then

maybe riffing on the tune, applause

not overdone, cocktails to be put down.

Cigarette smoke shades the recording,

or maybe it’s just Collins’ light strokes

on the crash, an enveloping heartbeat.

But, you’re there even if you’ll never make it

to the Gate, temple of jazz, of cool—

Billy, Roger, Charlie, and you in your bedroom

with candles, a poster from Spain, a Rouault print,

no booze, no dope, just Mann’s muted mellowness.

As Hardy plays the vibraharp, the low ceiling

compresses soul into something intimate

and other at the same time, the way

the four of you—your feet almost touching—

are gliding closer to the start of college,

the membrane between you and the coming world

growing thinner by the hour. The birth,

at least this night, is not something vast so much 

as velvet, slow-dancing notes in a soft-lit womb.


Portrait, 1938

All she wanted was a few good books,

a couple of friends, some cigarettes,

a piano, either large or small,

and a window, every now and then, 

through which to stare and ponder the sea.

What she ended up with was a man,

two boys, a dog, and nightly highballs—

a masked artist among aristocrats,

a Chopin admired mostly for her looks.



Poems by J. Stephen Rhodes have appeared in over seventy journals, including Shenandoah, Tar River Poetry, and Cimarron Review, as well as several international reviews. Wind Publications has published his two poetry collections, The Time I Didn’t Know What to Do Next and What Might Not Be. He has won a number of literary awards including two fellowships from the Hambidge Center for the Arts and Sciences, and selection as a reader for the Kentucky Great Writers Series. Most recently, he won First Prize in Still: The Journal’s annual poetry contest. He holds an MFA from the University of Southern Maine-Stonecoast and a Ph.D. from Emory University.

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