The Mysterious Axman’s Jazz

Jack Bedell

—Joseph John Davilla, NOLA, 1919



When the drummer’s stick strikes

                          too close to the cymbal bell

in this old tune, ten grocers’ ghosts

                          hop up out their graves to dance

at the sound of an ax head banging

                          on the handle of a screwdriver,


and the ragtime piano drips 

                          all over the place, its notes

drying in moonlight on Upperline 

                          and Magnolia. As long as this song

plays, those ghosts will keep stepping,

                          their bones shaking in the grave


while the axman passes on by.

                          That jazz is the only way

to still his ax, leave it resting

                          against a tree in the backyard.

The dogs will howl either way,

                          so play on, man, play on.




Jack B. Bedell is Professor of English and Coordinator of Creative Writing at Southeastern Louisiana University where he also edits Louisiana Literature and directs the Louisiana Literature Press. His latest collection is No Brother, This Storm (Mercer University Press, fall 2018). He served as Louisiana Poet Laureate 2017-2019.