Like the Jazz

By Jonathan Li


Loud coughing, clearing throats,

bouncing echoes off vaulted ceilings.

Mounted spotlights click—

a buzzing, like fabric-on-fabric,

faint flitters of the beam flickering on…


They’re watching,

don’t forget: “no mistakes.”

Voices are muddling:

was that a dissonance?

a falter in the performance?

Now frozen wire squeezes,

barbs embedding themselves

in his heart.

Causing missed


skittering, swinging

rhythm landing on


Like the jazz


And suddenly

it’s not hard to imagine—

their panting

their crisp suits wrinkling

golden-clasped belts missing…

—better maintain a steady composure,

Don’t forget: they’re listening.

But it’s not

hard to imagine—

that salty, metallic liquid


the business phone

left ringing

the staggering walk

next morning

the back that won’t stop burning.

—But hey, don’t forget to keep smiling.

Li is a branch and California state honored pianist, as well as a 2020 California Arts Scholar.

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