‘The Bent Notes’ by Tracy Ostertag


The Second Hex: An Ode to a Woman Who Plays the Blues Guitar

New York-born and raised on Jazz
You walked due north to the Coldest Blue,
Borderless and unsatiated.

St-Urbain’s cavalry chucked a black look:
‘Where do you come from stranger?
Why is your guitar strung so true?’

Forty-five bullets around his waist,
A show of ineffectual sorcery
In an unabridged perdition.

‘Be uncomfortable,’ you quipped,
‘For I am cursed and gratified.’
You dodged a Red Glare and endured.

Chaos isn’t lazy, deals with the Devil never slow.
Secrecy is scalding.
The Horsemen always know.

You found me on an irreverent Sunday,
Your composed ebony wands -enjoying a fretboard-
Cast me when I was unsound.

In return, I caught you impromptu,
Ad-libbing, a few licks, so confident.
No one thought you could play like the First World Sex.

You practiced scales
And I scaled your hollowed-out props
That smelled of rosewood and mahogany.

Together, we rummaged through the neighborhoods of men –
Their stories were incurious
And out of bloom.

Alan Lomax’s Bluesmen proved to be an insufficient spell.
You, an all-seeing enchantress, among all of these blind men:
An Artemisian appearance.

In my bathroom mirror
You harangued Lead Belly’s ‘Black Girl,’
A malediction so Curt.

I found your quiver full of songs
Once upon you taking aim at me.
We walked outside of us and you spoke to me in a whisper:

‘Snooks Eaglin’s Brown-skinned Woman lied.’
Mirror Mirror, my love, you neither are the fairest of them all.
But, Woman, your darkness is bewitching,

Your body anything but Second Sex,
Your arrows not straight but guileless,
And your Blues a sovereign hex.



She Gives Her Beloved Uncertain Rhymes

Not three quatrains and a couplet –
She owns a song that plays a note
Like Lovers fighting in a bathroom.
A thousand lessons, and but a pair by rote,

We learn by heart the blight of us two,
Wander certain histories
And squander uncertain skies.
Into the Open and out of the Blue,

She delivers me to buskers who muse and play
Mussorgsky’s ‘Pictures at an Exhibition.’
I suggest we walk to the end of need,
Thirst and toenails lost in Prohibition.

Yeats and Heaney once gathered
In certain Village Graves
After formal convocation speeches
In reverent and educated knaves.

But nothing is like the writing of her:
She is an un-cruel month drifting and wise
That frightens my form.
Out of the necessary and over the rise

In the distance from folly to here,
From northern sun to summer snow,
Where the hyenas come to purr
And laughter runs indigo

I feel the world in a certain clime.
Of a sudden she summons an ancient radio
That smells a definite yellow
And sounds a Meshell Ndegeocello line.

Not a Dashiell Hammett mystery:
She leaves my heart in all of the towns
And the fragments of our account in plain view.
Like the pedal steel she frowns

And walks me back to Little Burgundy.
There, the Jazzmen are rehearsed and bored,
And there, she gives her Beloved uncertain rhymes,

Not a 12-bar blues chord.


TRACY OSTERTAG is a writer, painter and academic who lives and works in Montréal.  She has a PhD in Sociology from the University of Edinburgh where she learned to love whisky, things that are haunted and things that are green.  This is her first attempt at writing poetry to an audience.

Copyright © 2018 by Tracy Ostertag. All rights reserved.

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