On a warm night in upstate
New York during the summer
of 1948, Charlie Parker got out
of a brand new Pontiac, the bass
player from his quintet was behind
the wheel. Clubs along 57th Street
were an hour behind them. Parker
had grabbed the case with his sax
in it from the back seat and walked
out onto a field. He was off drugs,
clean for at least six months
but knew he’d never be clean
as the air he breathed.
A herd of cows watched him walk
in front of them, place the case
on the grass, open it and take out
a bent piece of sky the color of dawn.
Then he blew on it as his fingers
like a flock of small dark birds flew
up and down. The cows listened, stopped
chewing but couldn’t prevent their tails
from swinging like the Basie rhythm
section. Sounds they never heard
came out of a hole in the sky.
Then it stopped. He placed it back
in the box and walked away. Within
hours the green grass they began
chewing again turned the milk in
their bellies white.
A: On the day I began writing “Milk”, I was home reading a jazz critic who related a little-known story of how Charlie Parker once got out of his car in upstate New York after a gig and played his sax to a herd of cows. I loved the story and basically related it in the poem but thought it was important to make it from the cow’s point of view in the second stanza. That is where the twist of the poem comes in.
Q: What is the last book you’ve read that made you want to grab a pen and write?
A: The last book I read that made me begin a poem was, Edward Hopper: Portraits of America by Wieland Schmied — it actually was not anything that was written but rather Hopper’s paintings of various tenements. Since I am a visual writer and his paintings have influenced me throughout the years, they reminded me of tenements on Third Avenue in New York City that were being torn down to make room for a luxury high-rise. I always feel that by doing this, they are destroying history and perhaps, a bit of Hopper’s New York City.
Q: What is the most sublime meal you’ve ever eaten?
A: Two years ago, I was in Antigua and my first night in the hotel there was a leak in the ceiling in my room. The manager felt so badly that he offered me a complimentary dinner. It was the tastiest lobster I have ever had in my life. I ate it overlooking the Caribbean and the fact that it was free made it even tastier.
Kevin Pilkington is the author of five books of poetry including The Unemployed Man Who Became a Tree , forthcoming from Black Lawrence Press in 2011.