Art Tatum

No stranger to the faith of eyes
asleep under the surgeon's lancet,
to time gambled with every try

that slit the foam of cataracts
where they pearled, he understood
the powers of sun to make us

loyal, what it is to shadow
twilight on the eye's horizon.
Then it came: the crumpling blow

that made desire final, the day
a neighbor blackjacked and robbed him,
flooding the blotter of his gaze.

And as the wounded eye welled up
with blindness, the other followed
blind: that night an ocular cup

of flashlight dwindled down the path
in his head, over pianos
as he saw them there, glazed in pitch.

Soon he grew into living proof
that darkness deepens the mind's ear.
It quickened what his hands were made of,

all those notes mapping the faces
of chords, touching the phantom shapes.
Finesse, yes, but not the mere lace

of fancy; more a conversation
among losses, each prick of light
dissolving in its constellation.

Once he sat by a radio,
listening to a dead friend, and played
along on the air piano.

As if his fingertips had eyes
gazing into music beneath
the music, dark, mute, buried alive.