A light smoker outside a luncheonette
he stood, feathers of smoke coming up
from the cigarette between his fingers,
taking a break from taking carriages in
to the Food Fair. Why not do it again?
I asked. In a round-about way he said no.
Do it meant get into the music business,
being recorded, singing in clubs, doing all
he had done to earn a modicum of fame,
the recognition, notoriety that was his,
some eight years before that afternoon
out front the luncheonette. He didn’t want
to go through what it took to get there.
Smoke floated from the cigarette between
his fingers. I thought he didn’t because
he was black, I didn’t think that then,
but years later. Now I’m not sure. He rode
the bus five days a week to the Food Fair.
On the records his voice, sweet and strong.
He acted that way too, steadfast, reliable.
How much he was drinking about that time
he was taking in carriages, mopping floors,
I’m not sure. Why don’t you get back into
the music? No, he lightly shook his head,
stared out into the parking lot at cars,
carriages he would gather and take
in a silver line through automatic doors.
I didn’t realize then how young he was,
his early thirties. He worn a white apron.
Food Fair not music was paying the bills.