It’s the violins that wake me,
not the smell of fried apples,
sunnyside eggs or percolating coffee
hissing as it spills over on the stove,
not the dream of eating left over
fried chicken for breakfast.
It’s those violins that open the song
the way the sun opens the day,
removing the darkness from last night.
Saturday. They had gone to a dance
at the Gayheart Ballroom.
Jessie and her five, yes, five
one of them my mother;
each one told
she is prettier than the others.
First, I watched them
helped lace them into long line bras,
whale bone cinching their sides,
long leg rubber girdles
pushing years of skin
up and down,
hooking up dark silky stockings
that swished as they walked.
Six strapless peau de soie dresses
hung over different doors,
each dress unique
in its dull luster of blue:
cerulean indigo turquoise
plum violet lavender.
Shoes with fabric dyed to match each dress.
Potato salad made. Chicken fried.
Boxes of Ritz crackers and mints
in A&P shopping bags. Mink stoles
and jackets covering their bare shoulders
as their heels clicked down the stairs.
The blues in those violin strings
preceding the flattened throaty yearn
of Etta James wake me.
Grandmother thinks Etta James too randy
for women from Virginia who do not sweat,
women who fear the funk. Pretty women
who cover their sofas with antimacassars,
but those violins tell me
grandmother is still asleep,
that last night left one of my aunts
or my mother with needs: a strong cup
of black coffee, a piece of slab bacon
and a Sunday Kind of Love, at last.
Linda Susan Jackson
At Last first appeared in Brilliant Corners: A Journal of Jazz & Literature; Vol. 7, No. 1, Winter 2002.
Poem, copyright © 2002 by Linda Susan Jackson
Appearing on From the Fishouse with permission
Audio file, copyright © 2006, From the Fishouse