Children's Unit Blues

It ends with Louis Armstrong banned from the children's ward.
The Armstrong tape I left behind banned from the children's ward.
The newest memo protects our children from "It's a Wonderful World."

It begins with Hector Baptiste, nine-year-old from New Orleans,
The music wars begin with Hector, black kid from New Orleans,
Quickmarched to time-out when his taunts get too obscene.

He says his therapist hates him,, he swears that I'm a queer.
He promises he'll kill us both if it takes a hundred years.
Then he's calling his mother, the bitch who dumped him here.

The supervisor wants Vistaril to silence Hector's shouts.
Wants Vistaril to drug him up, she's sick of all the shouts.
I put on Coltrane's "Alabama," see if that'll drown him out.

At first it's just more noise, the horn and Hector's screech,
Tenor sax is clashing with the boy's shrill screech,
Then a violent sort of beauty wobbles just out of reach.

A moment comes when screams & sax both rise up together.
A moment when the shouts & horn both lament together.
Then a whole grief world glides above this corridor.

John Coltrane's got it all down, hopeless and shining.
Somehow Coltrane's got it down, all the pain one dark shining.
Trane's talking soft, Hector shuts up, listening.

Hector's in the time-out room pretending he's got a horn,
Leaning on the padded walls he's wailing on a phantom horn,
He's playing out each rotten year he's known since he was born.

Surprised to see him settle down, I put on a tape of Armstrong.
Coltrane's done, try one more tape, sweet raasps of Louis Armstrong.
What else can I give him? His stay here won't be long.

Oh, let the unit director have her senseless final word.
She thinks she's going to help by censoring songs and words.
Hector, blues come like a thief, hold fast to what you heard.

:: Theodore Deppe, in Nebraska Review (2000)

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