Memphis

 

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 

Shepherds. 

 

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 

across town, 

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. 

 

And Memphis, 

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. 

© 2019 by J.B. Golden Group, LLC.

James B. Golden

Salinas Poet Laureate