His first name was the same as mine –
“Little” – the black man in the blinding
white suit pounding the baby grand –
not playing it, what people did
sitting at a bench, coaxing brilliant
melody with fingers and feet
– but slapping and slamming it
like an unruly girlfriend
shrieking in the dark and beer stench
of some backwater dive.
“The Girl Can’t Help It,” he howls,
not asking why he can’t either,
just another helpless lover
hurtling his ragtop down a blacktop back road,
a young carhop conked out in the back.
Years later the Reverend Richard Penniman,
hair like the prow of a naval destroyer,
addresses his piano
and it all comes back, the screams, the shakes,
but gentled by time, rehearsing
the body’s fits, yet not re-living them,
having arrived at the tranquility
of a man walking slowly home
while the neighbors tear themselves apart.