Bill Nelson

Giant Steps

Then I snuck up behind a sleepy John Coltrane
and slowly unzipped his skin, starting at the point where his brain 
meets the spine I peeled him lengthwise 

to the tailbone, silent, breathless, he never woke 
and even as I slipped my fingers inside his,

even as I gently placed my eyeballs behind his lids
he never woke and there I was, lying 
face down on a bed, John Coltrane.


I take a heavy breath and push my lips to the mouthpiece,
blind behind the glass, I hear a voice, firm,
beginning to lose patience, a wailing siren;
keep breathing, keep breathing, keep breathing.


You snort when you chew, John’s wife says to me.
I’ve never noticed this. She is more trouble
than John’s old wife, but I can tell she loves John 

by the way she watches him sleep, even with
the snorting and the ulcers and the drinking, she still 
watches him sleep and when John’s allure

begins to fail and I resort to signing his name
with an X and suing every newspaper
with his image, she watches him sleep.


I knew the game was over, even before they came back
with the scans and textbooks
the size of tables. What’s wrong?

I said dutifully. They glanced over to the light box 
and flicked through the pages; light box, pages, light box.
I sat for an hour in that hospital gown

a chill running up and down my white, lumpy spine.
Mr Coltrane, a small-eyed doctor finally said
grasping my hands between his knees,

I’m a huge fan, his doctor’s breath, glancing over
at the other doctors, wheezing on my face. 


He looked so tired in his dead, floppy skin.
I left him in a sweltering bus shelter 
in Hamlet. I felt like stuffing him. 
Newspaper, leaves, my shoes, whatever
I could find, anything to bring the old Coltrane
back, the old Coltrane I knew who spoke directly 
to the mic, politely, calmly, as cool as you like.

Author’s Note


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