Mingus in Diaspora

By William Matthews 1942–1997 William Matthews
You could say, I suppose, that he ate his way out,   
like the prisoner who starts a tunnel with a spoon,
or you could say he was one in whom nothing was lost,   
who took it all in, or that he was big as a bus.

He would say, and he did, in one of those blurred   
melismatic slaloms his sentences ran—for all
the music was in his speech: swift switches of tempo,   
stop-time, double time (he could talk in 6/8),

“I just ruined my body.” And there, Exhibit A,   
it stood, that Parthenon of fat, the tenant voice   
lifted, as we say, since words are a weight, and music.   
Silence is lighter than air, for the air we know

rises but to the edge of the atmosphere.
You have to pick up The Bass, as Mingus called
his, with audible capitals, and think of the slow years   
the wood spent as a tree, which might well have been

enough for wood, and think of the skill the bassmaker   
carried without great thought of it from home   
to the shop and back for decades, and know
what bassists before you have played, and know

how much of this is stored in The Bass like energy   
in a spring and know how much you must coax out.   
How easy it would be, instead, to pull a sword   
from a stone. But what’s inside the bass wants out,

the way one day you will. Religious stories are rich   
in symmetry. You must release as much of this hoard   
as you can, little by little, in perfect time,
as the work of the body becomes a body of work.

William Matthews, “Mingus in Diaspora” from Time and Money: New Poems. Copyright © 1995 by William Matthews. Reprinted with the permission of Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved, www.houghtonmifflinbooks.com.

Source: Time and Money: New Poems (1995)

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Poet William Matthews 1942–1997

POET’S REGION U.S., Midwestern

Subjects Music, History & Politics, Arts & Sciences, Social Commentaries

Poetic Terms Free Verse

 William  Matthews


William Matthews's poetry has earned him a reputation as a master of well-turned phrases, wise sayings, and rich metaphors. Much of Matthews's poetry explores the themes of life cycles, the passage of time, and the nature of human consciousness. In another type of poem, he focuses on his particular enthusiasms: jazz music, basketball, and his children. His early writing was free-form and epigrammatic. As his career has . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Music, History & Politics, Arts & Sciences, Social Commentaries

POET’S REGION U.S., Midwestern

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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