. (Oh, well…)
. (Oh, well…)
When we were boys, my brother and I had the run of Cypress Street in North Little Rock, Arkansas on our Summer visits down home. We ate like kings and fished almost daily between stints of wrestling and throwing rocks at wasps nests and some, mean-as-hell, blue jays.
Early mornings broke thru a small window above the kitchen sink. It was always lined with the hard-skinned, green tomatoes from Madear’s garden below. Every morning, sipping cooled black coffee from Daddy S.L.’s saucer and crunching bites of beautifully browned toast, coated with runny egg and grits, there was little else to satisfy our boyhood needs.
I am certain that the early morning dew of Arkansas is medicinal. We never remembered our shoes and wore threadbare pajamas when walking Daddy S.L. to his blue and silver station wagon, but we were sorely protected from the 5:45a.m. chill. I think now that his smooth, baritone chuckle was our warmth as we skittered back into the kitchen to argue over the last sip of cold coffee and bites of breakfast left on his plate. We would be curled asleep beneath the small, press board and vinyl table within minutes of his leaving…every morning.
He returned home at 3:30pm and walked in giant steps thru the curled up grandkids watching the black and white half hour of Lone Ranger and a local BOZO The Clown Show. We made it a good luck charm to touch the dirt dusted leg of his work pants as he swiped by. In the kitchen MaDear hard fried them palm-sized perch and boiled hot dogs and beans for the kid’s dinner. We heard them kiss.
Other afternoons he stuck his head thru the door and called for us to “come run with me”. On those afternoons we headed down to the ballpark at Whitmore Circle to watch men play baseball. The best part of those “runs” were the Mexican tamale cart vendors who surely over delivered on those one dollar, corn husk wrapped bundles. But, the best thing ever about those “runs” was a singing ball player, they called, “Big Cole”.
From the dugout Big Cole ran thru, what I imagined were, old songs; rifts of blues and names of women and men who had done him wrong. He was older than the players and rarely made it to the plate. I recall him swatting a slow lobbed ball over the Pitcher’s outstretched glove just once. He couldn’t “run slow”, the men teased Big Cole, and he slung the bat and settled back into the dugout. After awhile he began to hum, then riff on the idea of finding a woman who could “wait til the bottle run dry”. “What He say, Daddy?” my bug-eyed query brought chuckles from the grown ups.
Again, Big Cole riffed on about Birmingham not being a ham at all! We oughta see the one up dat gals draws! And me, “What He say, Daddy? What HE SAY?” Soon, recounting stories of thunderous home runs were overshadowed by the salty tongue of Big Cole and a few others trying to jump into the rowdy workman’s calling.
Driving home, Daddy S.L. said that Big Cole was a “Caller” for the Gandy men who worked to straighten the tracks. The heavy loads of trees being harvested from deep in the woods would damage the rail lines and could warp the creosoled drenched ties. He said the “Gandy Dancers” and work crews from the Penitentiary “throwed” them back in line. Big Cole sang to the men and got everybody on the same rhythm to make the job easier.
Daddy S.L. said that Big Cole hung around places and picked up stories to use in his songs. Later, in July, he drove me to the Little Rock Stock Yards and we parked near the junction where myriad train tracks snaked and fingered alongside the warehouses for delivery. We left the car windows down and a warm breeze had me nodding.
I awoke to a shadowy clanking of iron rods and deep laughter. A White man suddenly shouted, “Gwine up to de quarter head”, and men moved in unison toward a curved section of tracks. I sat up and leaned out the station wagon’s window just as the White man made a jerking arm motion and yelled out to the men.
On the hot breeze a long moan built quickly to a wailing, then nasally passage in Big Cole’s, familiar cadence.
Aahh—Two lil’ gals was court’n Me
One was blind & One caint see
My Grandma put a switch to me
When I come home wit a kiss on me
Ol boys pull t’gether
Ol boys pull t’hether—HUH!
At “HUH!” the men shuttered, stomped, whipped their iron rods in a hard, short burst and I saw the track jut to the left.
He did it twice more before the White man gestured with his hand and the men halted. On the wind, that carried dry and hot back to the station wagon window, was laughter. Behind the guffaws came a question. “You couldn’t hide dem gal’s kisses, Cole?!”
Daddy S.L. shook his head, chuckled and started up the family car.
This story first appeared in the blog, Three Days In The City. All copyrights reserved.
Jas. Mardis is an awarded Poet, Radio Commentator, Editor and Fabric Artist. He is a 2014 Inductee to The Texas Literary Hall of Fame.
I have been invited to participate in this exhibition on Migration in the world. I have created a leather burning and fabric art piece titled, “Sweetie, Get To Harlem, NOW!”
There are two leather pyrography works featured on this piece and features a lace-cut work tablecloth and quilted, star pattern patchwork. The images on this piece features two characters from a familiar migration story. The man has fled the South for a chance at Harlem, New York and Adam Clayton Powell’s upward Negro progress. His letter home has announced a new longshoreman’s job and Harlem apartment room is read over a wagon wheel mailbox by his spouse. It tells of Father Divine and his religious movement to feed, house and train migrants and Harlem-ites, alike. Get here, Now! The Statue of Liberty skirts the bottom of the piece as an anchoring symbol of the promises awaiting all who would dare to hope on the backbone of a new place. Beside her is a tenement building with rows of metal trash cans lining a street paved with gold. On the other side is a recreated advertisement of Adam Clayton Powell’s “8,000 Mile Cross Country Tour: The Negro On the Home Front” from The People’s Voice Newspaper.
Audio: How Sweet It Is
How Sweet It Is…
I want to sing
not just that hand moving vocalizing from American Idol tryouts
but sing in a way that makes men wait to go pee
when the alarm has gone off and it’s me on the radio
and the morning is still cold on the other side of his woman
and she is barely making a sound
but her mouth is a smile
and her hips are exposed from beneath and around her gown
and I’m chiming something from The Originals
and I don’t even care that it’s four-part harmony
’cause damn he’s looking over across her curves and sweetness
and remembering a few nights ago that should have been last night, too
and she’s curling her shoulders into the full light of day breaking across into the room
and her leg straightens and the gown just gives up
and there is something rising in the air on the sun’s rays and in the mist of dust
and there are all kinds of “yes” in the way that she opens her eyes to him
and the covers and pillows fall into line
and there is nothing to be said with words
not even that line about “gonna be late for work”
because I’m on the radio
and what they HEAR when I sing: “DO YOU HEAR WHAT I HEAR”
is “I’ve been missing you since yesterday night”
and what they FEEL when I sing: “WHEN YOUR LIPS ARE KISSING MINE”
and what they KNOW when I sing: “DO YOU HEAR THE BELLS, DARLING”
is, “All I need is five minutes to show you”
and what they DO when I sing: “DO YOU HEAR THE BELLS RINGING IN YOUR EARS, BABY”
is ask, “Can we turn that up a little bit, then?”
…”OH, I’LL NEVER HEAR THE BELLS….OH, I’LL NEVER HEAR THE BELLS…
NO, I’LL NEVER HER THE BELLS WITHOUT….YOU, BABY”
How sweet it must be to sing
Jas. Mardis (04/2015)
National Poetry Month 2015
**Click here to see The Originals sing their hit song properly
Jas. Mardis is a 2014 Inductee to The Texas Literary Hall of Fame, Multiple National Association of Black Journalist GRIOT Awards for Radio Commentary and a Pushcart Prize Winner for Poetry. He is Editor of KenteCloth: Southwest Voices of the African Diaspora (UNT Press). For booking information of poetry or The Family Story Project workshops–firstname.lastname@example.org or just send a reply from this page.
Drops Like Rain audio
Drops Like Rain
In the rain
what will be remembered of your face
does not blur so easily
and I see so clearly
the wonderful, seasonal, leaf-brown shading of your eyes
piercing thru the large pane of shop glass
as you jump the space between awnings trying not to get wet
I see you remembering to smile then scrunching your face when
an already couple bumps into you and
just like that
you slide back into the weather and your hair drinks what drips
from the beast that has become this night’s sky
From this booth I cannot save you
not even in my manliest imagination
not even in the best years of my faster boyhood
not even not hardly no way
when you do not fall into the drink
but instead bend at the knees and waist
and waggle your hips into a brake
the sound that comes from me does not match my facade
since first looking into the falling stream that was your face
watching helplessly you
slipping and grinding and stopping yourself in the rain
the way you held on stood pat hung in there
neverminding the fools behind with their outstretched, dry hands and apologies
instead, shaking it off and finding me in that deliberate, slow turn
of your drenched face dry inside at a booth then winking
it is hard to image how I will stop myself from falling for you
like fat drops of April rain
down thru your head’s drenched curls
across the wet waving line of your brow
racing in swirls over the bridge of your nose
rimming silver slivers ’round your flared nostrils
before landing and lacing and beading into the grace on your full lips
I am already learning to love the way that you hold your mouth
already being pushed by wanting what these other couples have
are willing to race thru full streets
clearing pathways and already full spaces beneath awnings
where some other not-yet-loved fool
is trying not
to get this wonderfully wet
Jas. Mardis 4/2015
Jas. Mardis is a 2014 Inductee to The Texas Literary Hall of Fame, a Pushcart Prize Winner for Poetry and Editor of KenteCloth: Southwest Voices of the African Diaspora (UNT Press).