Meditations on Jazz

Michael Vander Does



This is here
this is now
this is where
nothing counts
except how you play

don't care
who you voted for
where you work
who you sleep with
what your grandma's name was

don't mind
the butterfly tattoo on your bottom
buttondown collar
black tennis shoes
did you come
to play
with me and my friends
keep my sister off the boards
and hey
did you see...?

don't want to know
where you go to church
where you went to college
what kind of car you drive
what you think of my mama

doesn't matter
what you owe
who you know
don't even
need to know your name

All I want to know

can you pass?


I remember where I was
when I heard Magic had AIDS.

But I don’t know if my high school friends
are dead or alive.

Miles is dead.

Yo! Miles! —

can’t put away your records.

I listen to each one

sleeve it and shelve it

but some won’t go back.

If I throw the ball
into the space
just opening

between morning and desire
will you be there
will the hole still be there?
when youand the ballget there?

will you be alone?

When the defense implodes
If I cut
Will you come back to me?

One of those nights after you died
I dreamed my compadre has been arrested
I walk the modest streets
Riot orange phalanxes round the corner
like the twist of a vise
It is not far to Argentina
I am not holding
but I am afraid
I run up stoops
to doors closed in the old brick fear

I remember where I was.
Outside the cleome nodded white and purple
like a knot of people talking.
Nasturtiums overcrept the path in jungle round reaches.
The manzanos had just set their first tiny fires.
Pain is so selfish.I like the album covers with your face on them best.
I see again the sweat like tears
lining your face no farther away
than we are now.
I never saw Magic play live.
I have camera shots of his bounce passes
burned in my brain like the television coverage of Vietnam.

Cherrypicking isn’t ethical
Hanging around
doing no work
Waiting for the big fat fruit to fall
Spitting pits.

But sneaking downcourt
While everybody’s standing around waiting
For the inbounds pass—
It’s clean
It’s elegant
No graft
No inside information.

Today winter glances brightly rightoff the pavement.
Over the music I hear Brock Peters:

“I‘m Jack Johnson

I‘m Miles Davis

Champion of the World

I‘m black


Motleyed jerseys
shorts without numbers
take the court
five on four.
They are not pallbearers,
a hole easily filled from the sidelines.

The wall in my heart
is scrawled with graffiti
saying you can never know
the exact position and velocity of a basketball simultaneously
the sprint for the far end of the court
all alone pulling the in-bounds pass down
like a wide receiver
or the rare instant
when you feel like a member
of one of the great jazz quintets
and everybody on the team knows
where everybody else is
what they're thinking
what they had for breakfast
where they're gonna be
and where they're
gonna be
and all you have to do
as you cut
Is put your hands in the air
catch the riff
dish to the other side
touch pass back

Maybe five years from my first dropped pass.
When I played well
I was usually Rambis
doing a job
setting picks
blocking out.

Oh but there was the day I was Barkley
every rebound was mine
I don't care
if you go to the tall and big store
it's my ball

A few times I was Worthy for thirty seconds
driving through the hole
to the hole
ball on a string.

And I was Magic for one moment
driving the fast break
I know the floor
the running-behind-the-back bounce pass


This inflated tear of leather
(or synthetic leather)
(or rubber)

is filled
With breath from the bustle of Jerome Avenue and 205th St. in 1947
Air drawn from the cries of premature babies who will not live
Air resonated along the vocal cords of exuberant young Germans, dying Congolese, Moonies’ shared marriage vows, and a hundred-thousand Ohio State fans shouting
Air swept through
‘trane’s horn, and Miles’s horn, and Al Goelz’s horn
air displaced by McCoy’s fingertips shivered by Jaco’s and beaten

by the sticks of Elvin Jones
Elvin Jones

This tear inflated with end of game gasps of Magic and Bird,
the Big O and Dr. J

and Lennon
and Marx (both, all, each of them)
take breath with every bounce.

that has flowed through blowholes
bounced off membranes
snored and purred and growled and yipped ecstatically
leaks from this ball and needs to be replaced

Just enough
to come comfortably back to the hand.


Antimatter splashes off the ends of blurred drumsticks, cosmic explosions find momentary openings to distant realms of being - sparks of magic maybe or science flashing from fingertips

released pulsars of the universe photons shoot through space from stars pounding in our hearts our lungs our gonads beating against the floor the backboard of our soul playing with the definition the discipline of the bounce touching the drums of our ears drums of our visceral knowing symbolic syncopation of drop step stop time rim shot always new yet always known as everyone knows :: everyone fears and uncertainty makes it real makes it a game makes a sinus of every quantization makes the high frequency assists of the hit :: drives the elision of improvisation through the sets the possibilities the choices pass delivered in concert into the pocket becomes move in the flow to shot the pass demands - score passé leading to resolution :: continuation and the eternal rhythm in which we play

inward deep I breathe the fence and the flowers and the stars behind the clouds and their blinding by the sun and the flexion of light to the edges of breath

And I breathe out
And this

beyond life
beyond being
and is always there
and does not
is not



Don't leave the ground too soon.
Don't force.

Don't look at the basket before you've caught the ball.

Wait for it.

Don't go on the floor if you're not ready to run.
Don't go to the hole after the first fake.
Don't fall for the first fake.

Wait for it. Wait for it.

Don't too swiftly shoot your soul into the isolation of cosmic oneness.
Don’t play a note you don’t hear.
Wait. Wait.
Don’t get caught in your assumptions.

Wait for it.


Tangled ineluctably with gravity

why light fails
why sound fades
why droplets form and fall and run downhill
why gathered soil joins and travels with the droplets

why soil settles
becomes new land in new places

why breasts sag
why balls hang low
why seeds find their place
in welcoming loam
why roots grow down

why eagle lands in the nest
why eaglet learns to fly

after escaping by sheerest force
attraction still holds
caught up in stars and the layered history of dirt
from which there is

no escape.

Being next to a body
a person

between here and gone.

Sometimes I feel like Frida Kahlo,
struggling with the gravity all the time.
Given a pain scale of one to ten with your first shit after a hemorrhoidectomy being an eight, I figure her regular pain at five with six and seven frequent visitors to her invalidism, While mine is more like a point five

And the emotional pain of living with someone
Loving someone who escapes gravity
is well beyond a seven.

Diego did not need to paint in the same way Frida did.
How much pain did she manage
to keep painting ting ting?

This is what describes the return
of the ball
to the hand
the tether
the arc the rhythm the pulse of the dribble
the fall to the basket the bounce from the rim
the collision of bodies into the tangled floor
the rainbow of trigonometric decisions

There is no leap that will not land
no tear that will not fall
no drop of blood

There is no thought without weight
no implication without mass

and the score begins between the pebbling
as the ball comes off the fingertips
and the attraction is broken artistically enough
for the perfect arc every ball has
to fall
perhaps perfectly
for this moment


basketball is jazz
jazz iz life
life izz baszketball

some days they use your head for the ball dribble all over the court till you dribble and drool some days you see that pass zinging like a bird of prey through a forest of arms straight to your heart like a canonball some days it hits you in the back of the head

just look // just listen // just feel

a ball a board a red white and blue

we all sidemen in this game come in off the bench for our moment of glory in this jazkit bizket jazziz the thizis the bazzketlife jaslife swinging up and down the floor like tomorrow even later tonight might never be like flight might put that beebopaareebop in the slimmy jim jam hold you in the moment of motion so you keep moving keep grooving but you never come down from downtown sweet georgia brown and the live it love it elevation of sole music patapatt squeaking blues of the shoes skitterscatting picking and jiving and rock and rolling a little bump and a grind and you give it and go for it pazzing the jazzball swing it round and round corner to corner bound for bound for glory don't meditate don't medicate don't masticate don't educaate don't operate just elevate just escalate just ooboplihoopliate
just throw throw throw the ball

a tisket a tasket a bazzketjazzketbodeeodee

old bazzketball players don't pack it in

they just faaaade away

In July of 1985, Allen Ginsberg asked Michael Vander Does if he would like to play with him during his reading at the Park of Roses in Columbus, Ohio. When Michael equivocated, Allen said, “Do you want to have some fun or not?” Put like that, Michael, of course, agreed. After their performance, Allen encouraged Michael to pursue the blending of his poetry and his music. The Jazz Poetry Ensemble™ grew out of this encounter.

At first, Michael was joined by Michael Sisson on bass. Over the years, the ensemble personnel grew and shifted. The frequency of their performances varied, but every year they played the Hot Times in Old Town festival on Columbus’s near east side. In 1992, Vander Does and Sisson were awarded an Ohio Arts Council grant for individual artists. They used the grant to publish Inca Blues: Poems and Translations from the Jazz Poetry Ensemble.

In the mid 1990s, the group had a good run playing regularly at Kent Rigsby’s K2U. During this period, the Vote For Me program was conceived. Eventually, Vote For Me culminated in a write-in candidacy as part of the artwork. In 2003, the core of the current band performed at Hot Times and the new Jazz Poetry Ensemble was born.

In the winter and spring of 2004, they revived Vote For Me as a commentary on that year’s election process. They performed regularly at 2CO’s Cabaret and honed the new ensemble’s vision and cohesiveness. After the 2004 elections, an impromptu performance at the Dell Restaurant inspired the Freedom is a Constant Struggle program and led to the expansion of the ensemble.

The first performance of the Freedom is a Constant Struggle program was at the 2005 Columbus Community Festival (Comfest), where they have performed for each successive year. In 2006, The Jazz Poetry ensemble released a live recording of this program in an emotional performance recorded at Hot Times immediately following hurricane Katrina. In 2007, the ensemble began performing what eventually became The Black President Suite, premiered in 2009 at Comfest. In 2007, Michael Vander Does was awarded a Puffin Foundation grant for his work with the ensemble.

Just recently, the ensemble embarked on a collaboration with David Murray. They will be working on a basketball themed jazz-poetry suite. Please visit Michael's website at MakeJazzNotWar.