David St. John
Los Angeles, 1954 - Poem by David St. John
It was in the old days,
When she used to hang out at a place
Called Club Zombie,
A black cabaret that the police liked
To raid now and then. As she
Stepped through the door, the light
Would hit her platinum hair,
And believe me, heads would turn. Maestro
Loved it; he'd have her by
The arm as he led us through the packed crowd
To a private corner
Where her secluded oak table always waited.
She'd say, Jordan...
And I'd order her usual,
A champagne cocktail with a tall shot of bourbon
On the side. She'd let her eyes
Trail the length of the sleek neck
Of the old stand-up bass, as
The bass player knocked out the bottom line,
His forehead glowing, glossy
With sweat in the blue lights;
Her own face, smooth and shining, as
The liquor slowly blanketed the pills
She'd slipped beneath her tongue.
Maestro'd kick the shit out of anybody
Who tried to sneak up for an autograph;
He'd say, Jordan, just let me know if
Somebody gets too close....
Then he'd turn to her and whisper, Here's
Where you get to be Miss Nobody...
And she'd smile as she let him
Kiss her hand. For a while, there was a singer
At the club, a guy named Louis--
But Maestro'd change his name to "Michael Champion";
Well, when this guy leaned forward,
Cradling the microphone in his huge hands,
All the legs went weak
Underneath the ladies.
He'd look over at her, letting his eyelids
Droop real low, singing, Oh Baby I...
Oh Baby I Love... I Love You...
And she'd be gone, those little mermaid tears
Running down her cheeks. Maestro
Was always cool. He'd let them use his room upstairs,
Sometimes, because they couldn't go out--
Black and white couldn't mix like that then.
I mean, think about it--
This kid star and a cool beauty who made King Cole
Sound raw? No, they had to keep it
To the club; though sometimes,
Near the end, he'd come out to her place
At the beach, always taking the iced whisky
I brought to him with a sly, sweet smile.
Once, sweeping his arm out in a slow
Half-circle, the way at the club he'd
Show the audience how far his endless love
Had grown, he marked
The circumference of the glare whitening the patio
Where her friends all sat, sunglasses
Masking their eyes...
And he said to me, Jordan, why do
White people love the sun so?--
God's spotlight, my man?
Leaning back, he looked over to where she
Stood at one end of the patio, watching
The breakers flatten along the beach below,
Her body reflected and mirrored
Perfectly in the bedroom's sliding black glass
Door. He stared at her
Reflection for a while, then looked up at me
And said, Jordan, I think that I must be
Like a pool of water in a cave that sometimes
She steps into...
Later, as I drove him back into the city,
He hummed a Bessie Smith tune he'd sing
For her, but he didn't say a word until
We stopped at last back at the club. He stepped
slowly out of the back
Of the Cadillac, and reaching to shake my hand
Through the open driver's window, said,
My man, Jordan... Goodbye.
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