for Dave Van Ronk
Oh I went down to that St. James Infirmary....
We were sitting against the wall of a Yale College dining hall; Bill and I with Meg in the middle. A jug of Almaden Mountain Red between us on the floor. The air thickening with a haze of tobacco and other smoke. This burly bear of a man, growling out the blues in front of us.
To see my baby there....
“Blues at Newport: 1963.” Brownie McGhee and Sonny Terry, Mississippi John Hurt, the Rev. Gary Davis, John Hammond. And of course, Dave Van Ronk. I learned to play guitar off that album. My old wood Stella with brass wire round strings. Played that album til the grooves wore smooth. Played that guitar til my fingers bled. Playing songs I could learn, but could not yet know. Calluses would come later.
She was laid out on a cold white table
She was so sweet, so cold, so bare....
Out of the corner of my eye, I watched Bill slip his arm around Meg’s waist. I guess it was inevitable. Who could blame her? He was New South cool romantic with shoulder length black hair, ruddy cheeks, bushy mustache, eyes somewhere between existential pain and a bemused twinkle. Like a healthy David Crosby. A wounded cynic with a passionate soul, she’d think. He could quote Kierkegaard or Flannery O’Connor with equal ability. All the while blowing smoke rings from unfiltered Camels.
Truth be told, I spent my first date with her talking about my girl back in Ohio. How I was worried she was sleeping with my, well the way I told the story, but seeing how things turned out , it couldn’t have been true, best friend. My girl, tall, lean, those long legs. Nordic blonde. My blonde. Like a model, I proudly told the school newspaper where I student taught. Her loving me, it mattered too much.
Meg was short, soft, round. No sharp edges. Long honey brown hair the color that Southern Comfort tastes. Which is how her easy Texas twang sounded. And this fine, soft, down that ran down all down her back. But there was this: she kept going back to see “Harold and Maude”. Well, Bud Cort, Ruth Gordon, all that Cat Stevens music, well, okay, once. But she kept going back. Over and over. Like eight times. It was well, troubling. It just wasn’t meant to be. She thought I was catching her on the rebound. Which I guess I was.
Let her go, God bless her,
Wherever she may be.
She may search this wide world over
Never find a sweeter man than me.
He pulls her closer. Casually pulling his hair behind his ear with one hand so that she can nestle her head on his shoulder. He gets her. I get most of the jug of Almaden Mountain Red. Feeling like I could vanish into the ever growing cloud of smoke. Or just disappear into the wall. But this voice up there, it just keeps reaching me....
Now that I have told my story
I’ll have another shot of booze
I’ll have another shot of booze
And if anyone should ever ask you
Just say I got those gambler’s blues.
** * *
After midnight on Frenchmen street
After midnight on Frenchmen street outside of dba--
inside Glen David Andrew and his very special guests---
he is rocking the house with his trombone
body surfing over a wave of bobbing heads and upraised hands
waving white napkins in celebration or maybe surrender ---
like church with the holy spirit flowing---
straddling the bar and teasing the ladies with his ‘bone...
while at the other end Miss Amanda Shaw sends more sparks flying from her violin
than Charlie Daniels in a fiddle contest with the devil...
second line, traditional, gospel, r&b, funk, hip hop and mardi gras indian chant
(everything but that white man dixieland)
all flow together, seamless, it’s all just music....
outside “poets for hire”
young man, young woman
she in a sundress, he in white shirt and wire frame glasses
bending over vintage corona smith and underwood
tapping out poems in harmony
and pretty Sally strawberry blonde, halter topped and jeans low slung
and fresh from somewhere else wheels up on her bike cart
hugs the poets
and puts up her sign for “Sally’s Tamales”
tonight’s specials: chorizo and cabbage and peach blueberry
i pay a poet to write your poem
tell this story with its complications, its paradox and perplexity
he types away while--
inside Glen David Andrew closes the set with a mighty call and response
“i’ll fly away o glory, I’ll fly away...”
with that rattling shaking second line rhythm and sousaphone on the bottom
the poet gives me one good line in his poem:
arcs of love create funny trajectories for life, don’t they?
it’s not bad, pretty good, his poem
but i like this one more.