Art Tatum: Art Plays a Myth


Why am I blind? You know the story so well
I’m betting you cats could tell it as well as I could
but anyway, there I am, running, running, 35, 30, 25, 20,

and God almighty there’s the touchdown. There’s
Two-Ton Tony running me down like a mad dog
chomping at the bit—falls on me like a mountain

and when my head hits the grass it’s gone. Just like that,
but there’s more, you know, the boy with the blackjack
and we’re in a back-alley and he looks a little more

transparent than the keys. I see his fingers, flirting
with clarity, then the blackness like my body
that falls to the pavement. There’s my mother, buying

me my first car, a Chevy that’s red with a white stripe
that collects near the fuel tank like a bowl of milk
where I run my hands, imagine the colors, the look,

then sit in the driver’s seat and make sounds from my lips
like a trumpet, like the scoot of a piano bench, a man
getting up for me. For what? The slow fall of a Pabst can

that drops a B-flat when it hits the linoleum. Drop it again,
flush the toilet—I can hear the key of all things—of the man’s
heavy, incredulous breathing or that of a scared boy’s whisper

in the dark because the touch of Braille on his fingers makes him
think the tips are bleeding but they aren’t. I can’t see the black
keys and that makes me blind but I can hang with the best

of ‘em in bid whist, I can tell you every damn statistic
there is because you know that Two-Ton Tony shit’s not real (right?)
but here, get up, let me show you what’s real and what’s not.

What’s possible. Give me cards to turn, give me the keys
beneath my fingers. I won’t always have steady hands
or a woman in my bed or the taste and the smell and the ferocity

of being alive (my mother telling us how lucky we are
to be the named ones ‘cause Pops is out by the highway
burning a shoebox in the snow) so I guess being blind

isn’t all that bad. There’s the music, and I know this:
that it comes from the deep wells and vibrations of a laughing man’s
black belly, from the taste of skin and hair pulled taught,

bouncing hammers, clack of nail against bone. I don’t say
that I’m blind because music’s meant to be heard and not seen.
I say that I’m blind because I think there’s no such thing as a wrong note.

DARIUS ATEFAT-PECKHAM is an Iranian-American poet and essayist. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Texas Review, Brevity, The American Journal of Poetry, Rattle, and elsewhere. He also has work forthcoming in the Other Voices International Project Anthology (Reelcontent) and Iran Musings: Stories and Memories from the Iranian Diaspora, as well as the bilingual anthology, Persian Sugar and English Tea, Vol. II. Atefat-Peckham lives in Huntington, West Virginia with his family and his Golden Retriever, Ivy. He currently attends Interlochen Arts Academy, where he serves on the editorial team for the literary magazines The Red Wheelbarrow and Interlochen Review.