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Elizabeth Cullingford, Chair CAL 226, Mailcode B5000, Austin, TX 78712 • 512-471-4991

Poet Van Jordan wins Guggenheim Fellowship

Posted: April 12, 2007
The winners are selected on the basis of past achievement and future promise. We are proud to count him as a member of our faculty. Included below is one of his poems:

The Structure of Scientific Revolutions

I place the trombone back
on its stand, after attempting
“Summertime” in C major. Childhood
memories of band camp and lessons
stream to my embouchure, hands,
and gut, after the ringing in my head
has passed, and the notes settle,
it seems, at my feet; I linger
on a photograph of my family: my parents,
brothers, and nephew. I suppose
I stare off into it, longer than I mean to,
thinking of my father, dead eight months
now. The color image blurs
a bit on this print, not recalling his smile
as I recall it in memory.
And, also, the camera didn’t know
this would be his last photo,
so the occasion was captured with people
moving like apparitions in the background
more than the spirit of the man in the midst
of it all. Even with digital cameras,
there’s still a pointillist dotting flesh
on the faces of my family.
I shake my head to clear
the trance and turn on the television.
First, news of a woman raped;
the pundits keep the stress on “alleged.”
I think of all the women who are
watching TV now. I turn the channel
to a rerun of CSI. All this technology,
yet we still can’t prove rape. What’s the use
of suspending disbelief? I turn the TV off
and sit back down to the horn,
but it’s still next to the photo.
This time I notice my father’s hand
at rest on my nephew’s shoulder.
My nephew might be practicing his cello
as I sit in front of this brass,
which turns to folk art in my hands.
I don’t really play anymore,
you know. I once thought music would be my life.
And it’s simply too easy to try to play
and say, That’s enough, too easy to say,
At least my nephew plays strings.
Nothing changes that easily.
It’s in the way the mouthpiece
refuses to kiss me back, how the ceiling fan
whirs in the room, yet humidity
hangs in the air. A need builds in me
only after struggle builds around me,
a mythical ether challenging this horn
with its song stuck in its throat: memory,
the present moment and all the notes falling
between them, struggling to get out.
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