Saturday, December 11, 2010

Charles Harmon

The old man in the coffee shop
Was crying into his coffee, very quietly,
To himself, a transistor radio on the table
Tuned in, turned down low,
But I could hear the music,
Sinatra singing “Strangers in the Night,”
And I remembered the first time
I had heard that song, I was eleven, in the car,
Coming home from a trip to the mountains
Late in the evening but it stuck with me
Even if I never became a big Fan of Frankie—
That was for my Mom and Dad’s generation.
I thought he was just some kind of Vegas lush,
Hobnobbing with Mafiosi, threatening to
Break kneecaps. I hadn’t realized his complexity,
That constellation of talent, the passion and the heart.
A lot of ego, yes, but he helped blacks break into
Showbiz, when they had to eat and sleep
At separate hotels from where they performed.
And with all his money, his divorces, his power,
Sinatra made a lot of people happy, and now they were sad.
The old man was a stranger in the night, but I looked him
In the eye and said, “Nice music.” And he nodded and looked at me
And said, “He’s dead.” And I said, “I’m sorry.” And as I left
I left a big tip for the waitress as Sinatra would have done
And I noticed that the old man had a “Semper Fi” tattoo on his
Forearm, those of the greatest generation had really earned
That designation, it seemed they had suffered enough, and why
Had my generation mocked them, put them down and their music
For wanting to come back from the war and just have a life in the 50’s?
When I got into the car and turned on my radio
The first thing that I heard was that Sinatra had died,
I thought he had died years ago, but then I understood.
And I remembered when I was teaching in South Central
And Marvin Gaye had been shot and all the
Black lady teachers were crying in the hallways, in the lunchroom,
And I couldn’t really imagine what’s going on
But I knew I had felt like that when John Lennon was killed
And I cried when the pope was shot even though I’m not Catholic
And I would never feel that way again until my father died.
And aren’t we all really just strangers in the night,
But sometimes a voice on the radio
Seems to make everything all right
And help us understand.

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