Once in a While
by Mark Perlberg
Mother was agitated all morning.
A call had come from her brother Harold,
who was spoken of only in whispers
and despised by those with a talent
for never changing their minds.
But Mother loved him.
Somehow I learned that my uncle
had forged checks and spent time in prison.
And I knew he played the saxophone
in small jazz bands.
In late afternoon the doorbell rang.
My uncle stood in the hall.
A tall man slightly stooped, he shook snow
from his long brown overcoat. He had a high
hooked nose and wavy brown hair
that fell across his forehead,
and he carried packages wrapped in Christmas paper.
My stepfather signaled: disappear.
In early evening Uncle Harold
knocked on my door with a gift for me:
jazz records, the first I’d seen.
Fats Waller beaming from the album cover
is clearer to me now than my uncle’s face.
“I can’t give you anything but love, baby.”
A mourning sax backing Lee Wiley:
“Once in a while, will you give just
one little thought to me…”
At first light my uncle was gone,
His footprints vanishing in a fresh fall of snow.