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Miles Davis Plays “Stella by Starlight”

Richard Terrill

And why not, I say, on a rainy afternoon like this,
cold in the basement, too warm upstairs,
when his high notes cut like rays through cloudshine,
his mute another reason not to say anything. 
You know this tune, you poetic 

jazzer wannabes: you late-
middle-aged guys cueing up Coltrane 
coming in for his chorus on vinyl – mid-era Coltrane
with his runs to the plaintive high wail, 
his ghost notes incarnate a fifth lower than the melody’s trail.

It’s been sixty years since that studio date and “Stella” still swings easy
like premium gas or next Sunday with the top down.
May we all articulate such grace in our fondest wish, our most desperate
crying jag held inside, as we practice to be older women and men.
Bowed bass and the piano rubato take it to the end.

For this is good vinyl – darker, bolder even than the dark modes
to come for Miles and his brethren an album or two hence.
May we open our senses, heads unbowed.
May we drop the needle on 1958 one more time.  
We were all alive then, weren’t we?

Richard Terrill, a former student and instructor at UW-Eau Claire, is the author of two collections of poems and two books of creative nonfiction. He is also the winner of the Minnesota Book Award and the Associated Writing Programs Award for nonfiction. “Miles Davis Plays ‘Stella by Starlight’ ” first appeared in New Letters Vol 85 Nos 2&3, and it is reprinted here by permission of the author.