Chasing the High Notes

It has dings in the bell, old pads, and cranky action. The case smells like a shabby
tweed jacket somebody left behind in a smoky bar. She lifts the horn, caressing it
as she would a baby, putting it together in smooth motions. Curving her palm under
the ebony mouthpiece, she adjusts the screws to put in a fresh reed. She pulls the strap
over her head; her hair catches underneath. She fiddles until the thick band is firm on
the back of her neck. The sax is part of her, close; together they sway to the beat in her

Tongue to teeth, sucking at her cheeks, she works up spit. The reed must be wet, real wet.
Her fingers are impatient, playfully running through familiar patterns. They will wait.
Pursing her lips open barely enough, she holds the mouthpiece there, tasting. Instinct takes
over. Practice, experience, make her good, but something intangible makes her great.

She plays and the moon pauses; young girls pretend kissing their pillows; short-order
cooks yearn and look out screen doors, wondering if it's time to move on, again. The sinewy
sound grabs her spine and nothing else matters except now, and now is forever. It's not
enough to be trapped; the notes crawl under loose skin, making places that were never empty before
full. Caught up, jazzed and smoking, the inevitable cadence is a sweet relief but always too soon,
the last riff as moving as an air kiss from a stranger slipping out in the middle of the night.

Light-headed and loose, she sighs, packs it in, her high always more pursuit than peak. She holds the
fifty-dollar bill in her fist, spent already. On the way to the car, her heels tap out some kind of music
on the cement, but it isn't what she wants to hear.

Copyright © 2000 Shann Palmer

Shann Palmer lives in Richmond, Virginia, where she teaches music and
creative writing. She runs poetry readings and performs with her jazz/poetry
combo, VILLANELLE, when she isn't surfing the poetry sites.