What Memphis is to me:
the South’s spaceship or slick ant hill
hole of August ginger and brick brown
anybodys avoiding the evening’s temper.
Penniless men steering bicycles to the ghetto
eggplant-bottomed women rolling hair in brick ovens,
rattling, skipping Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers
records, and Doo Wop makes a home
on every corner.
It is Elvis Presley playing photo time with
Tennessee State Troopers in front of Jerry’s
Barbershop on St. Jude Street, as The Diamonds
sha la la la “Why Do Fools Fall In Love” like
lukewarm yogurt attempting to feel-up Mammy’s smothered
chops, their silly winces and American Bandstand
children rolling in yard dirt with German
And, it’s where a writer said before Elvis,
there was nothing. And where nothing referred
unwaveringly to the maids brushing bleach dust
from aprons at a mid-street bus stop and
the ice man delivering five hundred plus pounds
of freezing glaciers to every white-only store
where only Black-owned bookstores made
Giovanni’s Room front-shelf-worthy
and put Ginsberg in the ‘Others’ section.
Memphis 1956 displayed photos of
Autherine Lucy alongside Nigger Bitch in newspapers
and sold them at the restaurant all seven of us ,
because Fair made the 7th, had to saunter
front to mud-covered backyard to grab
doggy bags to eat on our journey west.
It’s where I learned The Platters had
no faces in record stores and were
meant to integrate or crossover or some
other justified blanching of our skin,
to help whites feel more comfortable with
the artists they’d always gotten drunk to
at their Bridge games and dart-throwing
competitions in pissy pool halls.
Simone would say it choked her
scooped her guts soft-serve, sprinkled
coconut flakes and stamped it with a
waffle cone for Pat Boon to taste.
marble cake with clear fences
dog shit on white vinyl
pale hand slapping a Black woman’s face,
is a spaceship
from a place where Black was used only to
polish shoes or streak a toilet.