After Tracy Chapman
It was Halloween at a house in college
and getting late, the smokers were outside,
fidgeting on wet leaves. Inside, real beer
drinking was still going on. When “Fast Car”
came on, everyone stopped yelling and sung,
had a feeling we could be someone,
be someone. Most of us couldn’t legally drive
home. Two years later, two of us
would be dead. Dropped twenty-four stories
or stabbed in a bedroom with roommates home.
To be accurate, neither of those dead people
were at that party. They didn’t receive
that sung omen of belonging, longer,
to this world. When everyone stops
drinking and sings a slow song at a party
you have to marvel. No one even danced.
After that song, the party was over. You can
die this way, you can die this way, Tracy
finished, as the sober ones pulled around
the front of the house, just fast enough.
8 Bars of Soul
I turned twenty in love
with Sam Cooke. How not to need
an album where the audience
chimed in as if trained in a church
was beyond me. I was nineteen
and the campus was just beginning
to freeze. The green turned into needles
then a sheet. Loving more than one
song was as simple as a grape
in the mouth of a child.
I bought his Best of on Central Avenue
in Yonkers, tearing into the plastic
with a ruckus of fingernails. Hearing it
was like watching a silent film
of myself having a child
I hadn’t even gestured toward.
There was so much I hadn’t considered
pushing out of myself; the maple
of a larynx spread across a horn,
songs instructing gladness
but never how. Again sex
was the scent of a voice.
Songs written for white people,
the cinnamon smuggled in.
His manhood was a species
of tree whose roots were hammered
in. In each song was the possibility
of a dance, and often
repeated. Like Sam Cooke I was born
by a river. Like he who played
One Night Stand for me
on a Sunday afternoon, I will never
stop counting the treadmarks of love
by the tracks on his albums.
He was shot: his heart
like a broken kiln. Broken
into. All those ways of serving
up a melody finished in the dark
of a motel room. The sound
of Sam Cooke’s death was like the pounding
of a woman on the door
when her man is home
but drinking. Don’t watch me
listen to his songs. Watch
my arteries go thin.
The other night I dreamt he came back from the dead
We all wanted to touch him. His face,
his collarbone hidden by a shirt too fancy
for him in life. We told him about the Yankees
& his sister as he toothpicked a cube of seafood
he never ate. Water seemed to exhaust him
and he couldn’t sit still for long, as if he was expected
in so many places at once that his time in a chair
was misspent. He gave us strict directions for how
best to plunk the jam atop the omelet fried with cheese.
We all vowed we’d try it; we converted our gowns
& suits into athletic shorts and danced loudly
in wintered mesh. He departed unescorted and he wasn’t
almost late; in fact he was quite early. It was too early.
TAYLOR MARDIS KATZ is a poet, editor, and farmer living in the hills of rural Vermont. She serves as Assistant Editor at Cooper Dillon, a small poetry press out of San Diego, CA, and runs a small herb farm with her partner (Free Verse Farm). Her poems have made an appearance on the radio, in a farmer’s almanac, in a seasonal quarterly focused on whole foods, in handmade chapbooks, and in a handful of literary journals, most recently Muzzle Magazine, Barnstorm, and H_NGM_N. She keeps a scroll online at panacheperhaps.com.