Sync or Swing


It’s not a secret history,
The roots of jazz in ancient call/
Response and complex, syncopated
Drumwork. One fact we should note:
The law said slaves who drummed would swing
From gallows-trees. They improvised

Their entertainment. This improv
Tradition in our history
Keeps keeping on. His parents’ swing-
Band records sound the call
From classic labels like Blue Note,
Or maybe just the living syncope

Of his heart. He syncopates
To traffic rhythm, improvises.
He hears the auto horns, a note
Like brass. Despite the history,
There’s music in the warning calls
Of cops who stand at corners swinging

Their batons. Each city swings
To its own special syncopation:
Every urban siren calls
The passerby to some improv
Dance with local history,
A sidewalk-shuffling string of notes.

He’s got the rhythm, got the notes,
Got the soul. Hear the boy swing.
He’s not weighed down by history,
But warps it, taut and syncopated,
Drawing in the weft, improved
With every riff he can recall.

The audience can feel the call:
They cheer him on at every note.
He’s off into improvisation
Backed up by that big-band swing,
While feet that stomp in syncopation
Beat the dust from history.

No one could call him a one-note
Johnny: he’s swinging and syncing,
Out there improving on history.

Tiel Aisha Ansari’s work has appeared in Fault Lines Poetry and Windfall, among others. Her poetry has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Her collection Knocking from Inside is available from Ecstatic Exchange, and her chapbook High-Voltage Lines is available from Barefoot Muse Press.

First published in Measure, Volume 7, Issue 2 (2012)