The Dissonance of Yellow Chords by Le Hinton

The Dissonance of Yellow Chords
for Lawrence

I was 8 when I complained about my brother’s
stinky diaper, so Mom showed me how
to change it. I wiped the warm scent of liquid waste
from his body while his tiny hands flailed
the air as if conducting his own chorus. Later
I threw the yellowed cotton into the pail
with the other dissonant fabrics.

Years later, those hands mastered the piano:
its arcs and angles, flights & descents. He studied
the gospels
. . . . . . . .of Mingus,
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .& Trane,
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Shorter
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .& Powell.
Converted to the faith
of Parker
. . . . . . . .& Monk
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .& other rare gods.

If you pay attention, the whole world sounds
like Monk: the discord
that isn’t, the ending that continues, a certainty
that flies away after a moment in your hand.
You just have to listen to everything at once.

When the kidneys fail, they fail together,
like the hands of a piano player that have sworn
allegiance to the approaching silence. Rhythm is suspended.
The body slows. The world fills with the scent of ammonia
as the organs try to resolve the chord.

The week before, not knowing how it would end,
we sat around his kitchen table. Talked

of flatted fifths. . . . . . . . . . . .&. . . . . . . .chord substitutions.
Not filtration rates. . . . . . . .or. . . . . . . .the transplant.

We knew there was no music to read, no lead sheets,
or charts to follow.

. . . . . . . .But like good improvisers,

all we could do is play the head, improvise
on the theme & hope

. . . . . . . . . . .that later,
we’d get a chance
to play another tune.

by Le Hinton

Editor’s Note: The extended metaphor in this poem carries it from childhood and up into knowledge with a musicality of line that many poems can’t reach.

2 thoughts on “The Dissonance of Yellow Chords by Le Hinton

  1. The Dissonance of Yellow Chords leaves me breathless with emotion. The third verse, especially, touches me deeply. I think back to changing my younger brothers’ diapers, the pail of soiled cloth diapers and then, to the dying of another brother. This poem will live with me for a long time.

    Like

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