It’s dark out side at midday. “shadows even the silver spoon.” Beijing’s atmospheric aquarium is silted again. Perhaps it will build tomorrow and worsen. The cotton balls in the civic filter need to be swapped out again. We need rain. We need a sack of Aeolus wind undone. We need Zeus to light the place us with something torrential, to souse the sediment
Magpies look attractive with their two-tone coloring, long tail feathers. But I wish they’d keep quiet. ‘Clack, clack, clack,’ like a rusty pair of shears. Loathsome, ubiquitous. My stepfather is an ornithologist and everyone should be as lucky as I to have birded with him in the tropics. His rule of thumb: the birds with the beautiful calls have the plain plumage the ones with the glorious feathers, generally sound plain. Or worse.
Is the magpie a Eurasian bird? My English neighbor spoke of them knowingly. “They’re horrible. They lay eggs other bird’s nest. They then hatch early they eat the others up.” Tough chick. I don’t remember having ever seen them, much less heard them back in the Hudson Valley. We have blue jays that shine like the water off Iceland speckled with white caps. They are only slightly less grating when they caw and caw. But there is no question that even Central Park, let alone up river has a far greater variety of bird life than this hardscrabble kingdom of Yan.
Doing my morning run Donald Byrd’s 1960 track “Ghana” from “Byrd in Flight” randomly populated the “running” playlist. I don’t usually have much bop on there. The tune swings hard and straight off the drum fills fall like an avalanche well channeled. I’d assumed it was Art Blakey who’s muscular turns I remembered roaring by this way. I had the good fortune to see that man perform, twice before he passed. Both times he consistently flashed his tongue fully out of his mouth as he’d roar by. Who cares? That’s Art Blakey driving the train. The man had four different wives and I know without knowing that at least one of them tore into his ass about keeping his mouth shut, while he played.
When I got home and checked it was in fact, Lex Humphries with the sticks on that set. No mention of la posición de la lengua or his marital status but he has, alas, also passed nearly twenty years ago at the tender age of 57. I knew the name but couldn’t say a single thing about the man. Turns out he was in Sun Ra’s Arkestra and actually appmmmkeared in “Space in the Place.” Lex Humphries drummed on the alternate takes of Giant Steps and Naima for the classic Giant Steps session with JC. What a joy to slowly fit pieces into the unending Jazz puzzle, or the Chinese dynastic puzzle or the ornithological puzzle one endlessly works to assemble. Might we some day be able to continue on assembling knowledge for centuries connecting all the architectures? What would century old smarts be like? Or century old habits?
There’s a Jackie McLean tune called “Appointment in Ghana” from roughly the same time and I began to wonder if perhaps there wasn’t a record of “Fine Nappy Jackie” and Mssr. Byrd and a squad of other hard boppers actually all playing there at some pivotal Ashanti Woodstock. Satchmo was there in 1956 and again in 1960. There’s a smiling picture of him and his wife with Kwame Nkrumah. In 1961, a year later there’ a picture of Nkrumah smiling with JFK, who is, also smiling. Three years later stil, in 1964 there’s a smiling photo of Nkrumah playing ping-pong with Zhou En Lai who was uniquely qualified to smile on behalf of People’s Republic. “Africa’s ripe for revolution” stated Premier Zhou. Indeed. Two years later while touring North Vietnam, Nkrumah was overthrown. He lived out his days decidedly not smiling, fearful of western intelligence agencies, an understandably skittish magpie, 惊弓之鸟, penalty boxed in Conarky, Guinea as the guest of the magnanimous President Ahmed Sékou Touré, who appointed him honorary co-president.
Today has been Monday but it’s Friday. Yesterday was Sunday, and tomorrow is National Day. The school had us treat today like the half day, at the end of the week. I drove my older daughter to school at 5:45 AM, which I’ve done every morning this year. Took my younger daughter over an hour later. I picked the older one up at 3:00 PM. She wanted to be at her friend’s house nearby by 4:00 PM. At 5:00 PM it was time to drive back to school to pick up the younger one and get groceries. Soon, my older one will call for me to bring her home. I should play Shan Tianfeng, hawk out the window and offer receipts. I should “clack”, “clack” and “caw” and stick out my tongue as I roll on by.
All home now. Not a star in the sky out there. We need fresh water in the aquarium. Bring it, Zeus. Holiday explosions are underway, within earshot.