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“Licorice Stick”

Sherman Pearl
January 26, 2018

by Sherman Pearl


When I came to accept that music was not my forte,
that I was not Benny Goodman or Artie Shaw or player
of a joyous klezmer clarinet, I stashed mine in the attic,
maybe, with other relics I planned to revisit, or in the closet
where passions go to die.

But sometimes, after listening to scratchy platters of jazz
and swing riff around the turntable, I hear it call me
with mournful low notes and high-pitched wails
sweeter than any I’d been able to coax from the mouthpiece,
despite my pathetic pleading.

The sounds move me to go searching for where I’d left it.
They beckon like love-sick dolphins.  The melodies
play my fingertips, the tender notes warm my hands,
my saliva softens the reed.
I hear the band I never joined

scatting like a chorus of ecstatic cats.  I hear all the music
that has stayed muted inside me come wafting
through the house and I stop to listen for where it’s gone.
I noodle the phantom keys of my licorice stick
and wait to take another lick.


Sherman Pearl is co-founder of the Los Angeles Poetry Festival. He co-edits California Quarterly and is the author of six books of poetry, including Elegy for Myself (2015). This poem appeared in our Winter issue, the 2018 art calendar, dedicated to the theme of music.