Linda Susan Jackson

April in Germany

-for my father
After the first eight weeks
of basic at Fort Dix,
the second eight at Fort Bliss
and six months of country western
blaring from mounted speakers
in Kaiserslautern, I needed more
than another weekend
in Vogelweh barracks.
A Friday morning in ’56,
I’d heard Mulligan was set to gig
on Ramstein Air Force Base,
and Chet Baker, canned
by Mulligan, banned
in America, banished
to Europe, it was rumored,
would also play, and me without
a weekend pass.
Ramstein’s not Birdland
or The Three Deuces
with dim lights and clinking ice
in watered down whiskey,
but tonight, GI party night,
stay meant go,
go see Chet.
Armed with my Rolleiflex
and Leica, using my chow card
as a pass I waved into
the NCO club
packed with GIs
eager as penned in horses
smelling clover.
Cigarette smoke and rising steam
swirling bodies clustered between
café style tables
clouded my depth of field
while we waited for Mulligan,
his group and their
West Coast smooth.
Before the second piece,
the chant began as question
Where’s Chet? By the next,
it thundered into demand
We want Chet. We want Chet
roared through the room
until Mulligan had no choice
but call him
to the stage.
Lex Humphries on drums
and Chet, lost in the heaven
that was his horn, jammed
with Mulligan on a make-shift
stage, re-united this one night
in a country not yet walled off
within itself.
With my Rolleiflex, I caught Chet,
in focus, all else, hazy but worth
the risk of being shot by Polish
base guards, worth the threat
of an AWOL charge, worth this long
cold night of nights before Spring
as though it and I had wings.

Linda Susan Jackson
Poem, copyright © 2006 by Linda Susan Jackson
Appearing on From the Fishouse with permission
Audio file, copyright © 2006, From the Fishouse