Painting by Joe Doyle (59 kb)

Sweet Daddy

by Patricia Smith

62. You would have been 62.

I would have given you a Roosevelt Road kinda time,

an all-night jam in a twine-time joint,

where you could have taken over the mike and

crooned a couple.

The place be all blue light

and JB air

and big-legged women

giggling at the way

you spit tobacco into the sound system,

showing up some dime-store howler

with his pink car

pulled right up to the door outside.

You would have been 62.

And the smoke would have bounced

right off the top of your head,

like good preachin'.

I can see you now,

twirling those thin hips,

growling 'bout if it wasn't for bad luck

you wouldn't have no luck at all.

I said,

wasn't for bad luck,

no luck at all.

Nobody ever accused you

of walking the paradise line.

You could suck Luckies

and line your mind with rubbing alcohol

if that's what the night called for,

but Lord, you could cry foul

while B.B. growled Lucille from the jukebox,

you could dance like killing roaches

and kiss those downsouth ladies

on fatback mouths. "Ooooweee", they'd say,

"that sweet man sho' knows how deep my well goes."

And I bet you did, daddy,

I bet you did.

Buy hey, here's to just another number--

to a man who wrote poems on the back

of cocktail napkins and brought them home

to his daughter who'd written her rhymes

under the cover of blankets.

Here's to a strain on the caseload.

Here's to the fat bullet

that left its warm chamber

to find you.

Here's to the miracles

that spilled from your head

and melted into the air

like jazz.

The carpet had to be destroyed.

And your collected works

on aging, yellowed twists of napkin

can't bring you back.

B.B. wail and blue Lucille

can't bring you back.

A daughter who grew to write screams

can't bring you back.

But a room

just like this one,

which suddenly seems to fill

with the dread odors of whiskey and smoke,

can bring you here

as close as my breathing.

But the moment is hollow.

It stinks.

It stinks sweet.

This excerpt is from Big Towns, Big Talk. Poems copyright (c) 1992 by Patricia Smith. All rights reserved. Published by Zoland Books, Inc. 384 Huron Avenue Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138. Presented here by permission of the author.

Image copyright (c) 1994 by Joe Doyle. Presented here by permission of the artist.

The Spoken Word ~ Contemporary Poetry