Los Angeles, 1954
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.
From Study for the World's Body, published by HarperCollins, 1994. Copyright © 1991 by David St. John. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
David St. John
David St. John is the author of over ten collections of poetry, including Study for the World's Body: New and Selected Poems (Perennial, 1994), which was a finalist for the National Book Award. He currently serves on the Board of Chancellors of the Academy of American Poets.
Date Published: 1991-01-01
Source URL: https://poets.org/poem/los-angeles-1954