Sterling Brown, Cabaret

Rich, flashy, puffy-faced,
Hebrew and Anglo-Saxon,
The overlords sprawl here with their glittering darlings.
The smoke curls thick, in the dimmed light
Surreptitiously, deaf-mute waiters
Flatter the grandees,
Going easily over the rich carpets,
Wary lest they kick over the bottles
Under the tables.

The jazzband unleashes its frenzy.

Now, now,
To it, Roger; that’s a nice doggie,
Show your tricks to the gentlemen.

The trombone belches, and the saxophone
Wails curdlingly, the cymbals clash,
The drummer twitches in an epileptic fit

Muddy water
Round my feet
Muddy water

The chorus sways in.
The ‘Creole Beauties from New Orleans’
(By way of Atlanta, Louisville, Washington, Yonkers,
With stop-overs they’ve used nearly all their lives)
Their creamy skin flushing rose warm,
O, le bal des belles quarterounes! *
Their shapely bodies naked save
For tattered pink silk bodices, short velvet tights,
And shining silver-buckled boots;
Red bandannas on their sleek and close-clipped hair;
To bring to mind (aided by the bottles under the tables)
Life upon the river–

Muddy water, river sweet

(Lafitte the pirate, instead,
And his doughty diggers of gold)

There’s peace and happiness there
I declare

(In Arkansas,
Poor half-naked fools, tagged with identification numbers,
Worn out upon the levees,
Are carted back to the serfdom
They had never left before
And may never leave again)

Bee–dap–ee–DOOP, dee-ba–dee-BOOP

The girls wiggle and twist

Oh you too,
Proud high-stepping beauties,
Show your paces to the gentlemen.
A prime filly, seh.
What am I offered, gentlemen, gentlemen. . . .

I’ve been away a year today
To wander and roam
I don’t care if it’s muddy there

(Now that the floods recede,
What is there left the miserable folk?
Oh time in abundance to count their losses,
There is so little else to count.)

Still it’s my home, sweet home

From the lovely throats
Moans and deep cries for home:
Nashville, Toledo, Spout Springs, Boston,
Creoles from Germantown;–
The bodies twist and rock;
The glasses are filled up again. . . .

(In Mississippi
The black folk huddle, mute, uncomprehending,
Wondering ‘how come the good Lord
Could treat them this a way’)

shelter
Down in the Delta

Along the Yazoo
The buzzards fly over, over, low,
Glutted, but with their scrawny necks stretching,
Peering still.)

I’ve got my toes turned Dixie ways
Round that Delta let me laze

The band goes mad, the drummer throws his sticks
At the moon, a papier-mache moon,
The chorus leaps into weird posturings,
The firm-fleshed arms plucking at grapes to stain
Bending, writhing, turning

My heart cries out for
M U D D Y W A T E R

(Down in the valleys
The stench of the drying mud
Is a bitter reminder of death.)

Dee da dee D A A A A H

A.B. Spellman, Groovin’ Low

my swing is more mellow
these days: not the hardbop drive
i used to roll but more of a cool
foxtrot. my eyes still close
when the rhythm locks; i’ve learned
to boogie with my feet on the floor
i’m still movin’, still groovin’
still fallin’ in love

i bop to the bass line now. the trap set
paradiddles ratamacues & flams
that used to spin me in place still set me
off, but i bop to the bass line now
i enter the tune from the bottom up
& let trumpet & sax wheel above me

so don’t look for me in the treble
don’t look for me in the fly
staccato splatter of the hot young horn
no, you’ll find me in the nuance
hanging out in inflection & slur
i’m the one executing the half-bent
dip in the slow slowdrag
with the smug little smile
& the really cool shades