Creation Improvisation Salvation


Jean-Michel Basquiat

I wrote this, about Genesis and jazz and creation and improvisation, as one of the stories of salvation we read at the Easter vigil at St. Lydia’s last night.

With the seed in it

In the beginning
when God began creating
the heavens and the earth, the earth
was a formless void and darkness
covered the face of the deep.

It was astonishingly empty,
the void as vast and dark as
the inside of Charles Mingus’s upright bass —
a deep rich darkness,
the Spirit’s hands hovering
over the strings ready
to set the world to dancing.

And that first solo,
spontaneously improvised,
brought light from the dark,
reverberating bass,
and lasted all day
and all night.

And it was good.

And while the void was still ringing,
the last low tones resonating,
a cymbal crashed
and the waters jumped
and dry land appeared
and a steady swing
from the high hat and snare —
and I guess it was an angel
who sat at the kit,
excited by the Spirit’s rhythms —
and that swing set the seasons
in motion
and the earth brought forth
plants yielding seed of every kind,
and trees of every kind
bearing fruit
with the seed in it.

And God saw that it was good.

And by now this music had been going
for several days straight
and showed no sign of slowing down
as each new creation —
the seas swarming with life,
and birds flying across the dome of the sky —
each new creature brought its music
in endlessly creative improvisation,
riffing on the Spirit’s swinging bass line.

And the horn section,
made of wild animals
of every kind: cattle
and creeping things
and living creatures
of every kind —
this wild and roaring horn section
was trading solos but
the Spirit still had more
up her sleeve.

So in walked Lady Day,
who started putting words
to the world and sang
about Autumn
in New York but also about
Strange Fruit
and her words named the darkness
and lit the darkness
and God saw
that she wasn’t just good —
she made the Spirit catch her breath —
which was also Billie’s own breath
when she sang.

And then Coltrane
walked quietly onto the stand
and picked up his horn
and on the sixth day
Coltrane played for six days straight,


And there was no end to the music

The Spirit called
and creation responded
and everyone was sweaty by now
and the sun was coming up,
which was its new habit,
so God sent everyone off to bed
and grabbed a broom
while the Spirit picked up Mingus’s bass
and plucked a low quiet tune,
something she’d picked up
from Thelonious Monk.

So God blessed the seventh day
and hallowed it.

And rested.