SPLIT THIS ROCK: Poems of Provocation & Witness

Brian Gilmore

 

TRADING PLACES

“aint that a shame...”
- fats domino


carla called us, and she lives in richmond now,
she is my wife’s best friend. she is from new orleans
and she called right after the storm, the one that rose
up like zeus to wash away the people
like ants on some hill and
we knew why carla had called because
we had been watching CNN
and we knew that she and all the others perhaps
could have used a boat, or a raft, some clothes, some food
and some rosary beads
all day we could see that people were barely
making it like in some sad old richard wright story
or like in ernest gaines’ the autobiography of miss jane pittman
and it is 1927 all over again, that’s why carla was
in richmond now, with doug wilder and arthur ashe
upsouth like the millions where the great war was fought
and her shotgun house down in new orleans, those
wonderful glimpses of who we were not so long ago was no
more, she said, and her job was no more, and she taught school
down there in the ‘big easy’ so she, as well, was no more in a way,
and that life of hers out near the fairgrounds, with her kids, and
her mother, out there with all the ordinary regular people
who deliver mail, and teach school, i am not talking about
canal street or bourbon street because there is more
to this than just throwing beads at people on floats, because
carla’s mother made the best crawfish pie in
the history of new orleans, and she is alive and still down there
carla say, still down there ready to wage jihad with the
insurance man who is speaking in tongues
about water and wind and wind and water
and we cannot pay unless you are married to huey long
and even if you are, we are who we are, that’s all, we are
who we are, because if word gets out that we paid you, we are
like those two dumb old fucks in trading places who
bought a crop report from an ape’s boyfriend with eddie
murphy laughing at them until his sides hurt, this is what carla
say now from richmond, where the great war
was fought, long way from fried alligator, pralines,
jambalaya, e’toufee

and i am remembering the time at jazz fest when fats domino
came out of retirement dressed in an all white tuxedo, we
were in carla’s yard eating her mother’s crawfish pie, and fats was rocking
a white baby grand, and he played all of the songs that are all that we have now.
and not far away, the nevilles played the greatest version of
“big chief” ever recorded, i am sure you remember
“big chief,” fess is rocking the eighty eights
like fats waller doing steel pan, and earl king, don’t forget about
blues men earl king from new orleans, because earl and
fess would have needed a boat too, a raft, some food and
clothes, and some rosary beads, and they would have been
all over CNN walking through that water, or all over the
newspapers, just like fats domino when they fished him out of it
with his hair matted and his heart broken; ready
to die,

and fats didn’t have on a white suit.
he didn’t really look like fats domino anymore.

can you picture that?
they didn’t even know it was
fats domino when they saved him.
ain’t that a shame?

ain’t that a shame?

ain’t that a shame?

and carla, my wife’s very best friend, from new orleans,

she lives in richmond now.

 


Brian Gilmore is a public interest lawyer, poet, writer, and columnist with the Progressive Media Project. His first book of poetry, elvis presley is alive and well and Living in Harlem, was published by Third World Press of Chicago in 1993. His second collection, Jungle Nights and Soda Fountain Rags: Poem for Duke Ellington (Karibu Books 2000) is an aesthetic biography in verse on the life and work of jazz master Duke Ellington. His poetry, fiction, and other writings have been published in The Progressive, The Baltimore Sun, The Utne Reader, In Search of Color Everywhere, and The Detroit Free Press. He currently resides in Takoma Park, MD with his wife, Elanna, and daughters, Adanya, Lirit, and Pannonica.

 


Published in Volume 9, Number 1, Winter 2008.


Read more by this author:
Brian Gilmore
Brian Gilmore's Introduction to Vol, 2, No. 4 (Fall 2001)
Gilmore's Tribute to Waring Cuney: The Memorial Issue

Brian Gilmore: DC Places Issue
Brian Gilmore: Evolving City Issue

Brian Gilmore: Audio Issue
Brian Gilmore: It's Your Mug Anniversary Issue
Brian Gilmore: Tenth Anniversary Issue
Brian Gilmore on Drum & Spear Bookstore: Literary Organizations Issue
Brian Gilmore: Langston Hughes Tribute Issue
Brian Gilmore on May Miller: Poetic Ancestors Issue