Michelle Estile


I found the use of persona very freeing as an entrance into a poem and another life. The process felt more like listening than anything, as a character’s voice is what I hoped to capture. The subculture of working musicians, especially jazz players, creates a very specific voice, which made this poem a joy to write.




Circular Breathing


I get to pick the warm-up tonight,
so it’s “All Blues,” my favorite Miles.
The bass player starts too slow,
and before I come in he whispers,
“You’ll suffocate, C.,” and smiles.
Thinks he’s smart cause
bassists don’t have to breathe.
At least not to make their
high-strung wooden girls sing.
They only use fingers and bows
to sift sound from the air.

I don’t care.

Got the perfect reed tonight.
I love all the sounds that
no one else can hear—
the cat tongue rasp as I wet my Rico #4.
The “peck, pock, poke” of shutting
the right hand keys of my horn.
That second of wind before
the vibration catches in the reed
and falls down the brass.

That bass player can
Kiss. My. Ass.

We call the drummer Take, and he
stirs the dry snare head with brushes.
Jim burbles a low trill while he eyes
a clot of drunk college boys. He hushes
them with a mean, mean face
while his trumpet snarls.
Then he nods to me, inviting:

“C’mon, now.”

I pick up the melody, like a mama
with a baby, gentle and firm.
Eyes closed.
This is not a skill as much as
something that my body knows.

I turn the tune in my lungs and mouth,
into my horn and then out.
Through the smoke rings that float stage-side.
The fratties are gentled now, just ponies
with full bellies, still and open-mouthed.

I look at the bassist as I hold the final note,
watch his eyes water before I ever need to blink,
before I look for eyes in the crowd, thirsty to drink
what I pour and pour and pour for them.




estile_compressed.JPGMichelle Estile has worked as a tomato picker, a music teacher, bookstore clerk, and saxophonist. She enjoys her current work incarnation as a counseling social worker in Athens, GA. She lives in nearby Watkinsville where her many lives inform her writing. Her work has appeared in Six Little Things, Umbrella, and The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature. She is currently finishing her first chapbook, The Desire Line.