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.
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
Round my feet
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
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)
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. . . .
The black folk huddle, mute, uncomprehending,
Wondering ‘how come the good Lord
Could treat them this a way’)
Down in the Delta
Along the Yazoo
The buzzards fly over, over, low,
Glutted, but with their scrawny necks stretching,
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