Her story, stuff of legend
Hard to believe a girl
who scrubbed the whorehouse steps
was a child of destiny
Louis and Bessie’s songs, a balm
wafting through the brothel windows
(masking commercial commotion upstairs)
That jazz summoned magic buried in her very marrow
At seventeen, at dusk, she entered a club
The audience, the first witnesses
to a staggering talent, unbroken by
the sorrows of her childhood
Finding her soulmate in sax man Lester Young
Coursing through their veins and blended history,
their addictions: Jazz and heroin
First gave life; second led to early death
Too young, a deathbed. Money taped to her thigh?
A filthy lie, as befits urban legend
The collective force of Lady Day and Pres?
The real deal – raw truth pressed on vinyl
© 2012 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil
For The Sunday Whirl: Destiny, Dusk, Mate, Marrow, Staggering, Buried, Songs, Blood, Addiction, Story, Sorrows, Broken. These words began singing choruses of “Lover Man” to me before I knew what I was going to do with them. Also posted at the Poets United Poetry Pantry.
Image courtesy of www.jacklawrencesongwriter.com, in his photo files. Thanks, Jack!
Although the rumor of money taped to her thigh was false, police did arrest her on her deathbed for possession. Lester “Pres” Young, who nicknamed Billie “Lady Day,” was in fact nicknamed by Billie as the President of Sax Players. Wish I could have included the video on YouTube of her TV session in her later years on “Fine and Mellow,” but the cut was too long. Look it up; you’ll spot Gerry Mulligan, Coleman Hawkins, Pres on the second sax solo, Mal Waldron on piano, and more. When Pres Young died of self-abuse (alcohol and heroin), Billie was not allowed by Young’s wife to sing at the funeral. Billie said bitterly, “I’ll be next,” and she was, four months later.