Workshop Poem

In 2004 I attended a local Poetry workshop.   In one of our exercises we were given a piece of art to look at and then write a poem.  We were shown “Japanese Girl With Red Table” by Balthus.   Here is both the poem and the painting.   Who’s art moves you?

 

Meeting Balthus’ Japanese Girl with Red Table for the first time.

 

posed

with her sex exposed

an ancient royal gift

tied up in a silk sash and bow

to be opened or closed

fondled or forgotten

leaning against the pillow

breath held

focused on a tapestry

until the spoken words “thank you”

break her neutrality

like the great exhale

as she humbly

turns to the red table

to pour tea

and cry

 

Zack Hoffman         May 2004

 

 

The Breakfast After

My writer’s group mostly sits in the café, nose down, writing then reading.  A safe place to find our voices.  Usually groups of three or four.  I am continuing to post pieces which began at the tables.

Once a month we meet up and read.  We get five minutes each.  It’s timed.  Dusted off and polished up pieces of what we were working on at the tables.  The next step in risk.  Standing up …being heard.  Here is the piece I read last year.

 

The Breakfast After

The bedroom was softly illuminated by two candles and the 3 inches of the open bathroom door.  Jimmy had turned on the water but Suzanne can still hear him peeing.  She was naked and warm, covered by a white down comforter.  She took the opportunity to look around the room, she saw signed concert posters professionally framed, all the furniture was light oak.   Suzanne imagined he’d gone into some trendy furniture store when he was flush, pointed at the bedroom set and said, “I’ll take it.”  On the dresser was a silver framed picture of Jimmy’s parents or at least Suzanne thought they were his parents.

Jimmy walked out of the bathroom wearing a pair of pajama bottoms.  He sat on the edge of the bed with Suzanne playfully pulling the covers over her head.  From under the covers she asked, “Staying or going?”

“I vote for staying” said Jimmy, and got up and walked over to the closet and pulled a white terrycloth robe off a wooden hanger and walked back toward the bed.  Jimmy handed her the robe and Suzanne slid out of bed slowly, she showed him her nakedness again and put the robe on but deliberately not tying it.  He stepped in and reached up, closed the robe and reached around pulling the terrycloth sash and tying it.  Jimmy took this opportunity to lean in and kiss her again, to taste her.

“Hungry?”

“What you got Jimmy Z” she said playfully

He began patting her butt, herding her toward the kitchen, “Eggs” he said.

“That will do nicely.”

As they slowly walked toward kitchen Jimmy couldn’t believe how well it was going.  He was sure now that disaster was soon to follow, he would drop the eggs on the floor, start a small kitchen fire, fart inappropriately, he took a deep breath, sighed and decided to act cool.

Jimmy started pulling things from cabinets and the refrigerator; it was as if he were a teenager preparing for a science project.  He grabbed the bowls, forks, spoons, eggs, Swiss cheese, a Teflon coated frying pan and a spatula.  Suzanne started looking through Jimmy’s cupboards; as if the white terrycloth robe had given her carte blanch to act as if she belonged.  She made a mental note of all the boxes of Lipton’s chicken noodle soup, the cans of Green Giant niblets corn, and Mrs. Butterworth’s pancake syrup.  She saw a large circular glass container and pulled it down.  It had breadsticks in it so she opened it up and with Bugs Bunny proficiency chopped away on a crunchy bread stick.  Jimmy put a dollop of olive oil in the Teflon pan, he remembered asking his grandmother about putting olive oil in the pan and she said, “I like olive oil, it’s like adding another food”.  He poured two beaten eggs into the now hot frying pan.

The eggs started to bubble around the edges.  He quickly picked up the salt shaker followed by the pepper and added it to the yellow mixture in the pan.    Jimmy took the spatula and started moving it around the edge. When a circle of eggs had taken some form Jimmy skillfully shook the frying pan back and forth.  until the mixture moved freely in the skillet.   Jimmy added the Swiss cheese on one half of the omelet.  Suzanne brushed up against him and offered a bite of bread stick.  Crunch.   With the cheese in Jimmy folded the omelet from left to right.   He lowered the heat on the gas Magic Chef stove and then grabbed two slices of whole wheat cup bread and slow them in the toaster.

Being distracted and impatient for the omelet to be ready Suzanne wandered toward the living room.  She looked past the dining room into the living room and saw a wall of sideways turned blue plastic milk crates filled with record albums. After a few minutes of being lost in album covers she yelled back into the kitchen,

“How many records do you have?”

“Right there is 3000”, he gently pulled her back into the kitchen and handed her a plate with half of the omelet and a slice of toast.

“Not really 3000!”, she said sort of astonished, then took a bite of the omelet, smiled and said “yummola”.   “So that game people play where you crash on a desert island and you can only take five records and you have to say which five would they be… you couldn’t do it?”

“Probably not” said Jimmy, taking a bite of his own omelet.

“Five, you can’t do five?”

“Not five not fifty, don’t make me choose.  Which Beatle album should I leave behind? Coltrane or BB King. Which Stones or Who album? Dave Brubeck, Art Evans, can I leave the Doobies or Steely Dan or Santana or Sinatra or Mozart or Bach or Tchaikovsky which one of those guys am I gonna choose?”  Jimmy smiled while Suzanne took another bite.

 

Zack Hoffman

Al Jarreau

Al Jarreau

When I was a young man in Los Angeles, I was going to Valley College and doing standup on Thursday night at a small club call the Bla Bla Café on Vineland Boulevard.  On Saturday nights we would go to the club to see the headliner, this amazing jazz singer named Al Jarreau.  He blew us all away with his music, his spirit and his artistry.  We knew we were watching and listening to someone special.  When his first album came out, “We Got By” we all ran out and bought it.   The song “We Got By” is one of those songs that is like a tuning fork for my soul.  It moves me.  It moved me when I heard it in 1973 and it moves me every time I listen to it.  Pictures and people and the life I live dance through my head.   Here is the song done in Hamburg in 1976.

Al Jarreau passed away on February 12th 2017, a month shy of his 77th birthday.   He had just canceled his tour a few months earlier.  He continued to do what he loved.    I am so sad.  Yet I am so grateful for his presence in this world, the joy, the music he brought with his passion, his gentleness.  For me, he will always be the greatest jazz singer of my generation.  God Bless you Al Jarreau.  Rest in Peace.