poem: george gershwin writes janis joplin upon hearing her version of Summertime

Until the doctors confirmed my tumor,
everyone believed I was faking it.
I attempted to push my chauffeur out of a moving car.
I could convince no one of the oppressive scent of burning trash.
Once, while performing, I forgot my music. Hands poised in the air.

On the way out of a restaurant,
the air was rubber and flame. I collapsed.
Someone ordered me to stand.

I tell you this to say, aside from the tumor,
I was not terribly unhappy.
Just enough.

I wrote Summertime for Porgy and Bess, in Charleston, South Carolina,
working in the fields with the Gullahs, dancing with them,
soaking in the spirituals until I could conjure them myself.
I worked long enough to know I couldn’t call it a theft.

I was overcome with the rhythms. The steps and claps
accompanying the voices, wail and thigh slap,
this was not my home. But we did love.

I wrote Summertime unaware I was dying.

And this is what I want to tell you.
Rhapsody in Blue was written on a train
to the rhythm of the tracks.
The staccato of taxi cars informed An American In Paris.

The haggard breath, ribbed violin, is most chilling when you whisper.
And when you walk out of a restaurant only to bow to the ground,
the collision is a bassoon weeping itself dry.

Did you hear, when those Gullah voices
cast a net over the dark?
That was the morning I awoke to sand crabs
invading my room. It was not the sickness;
I did not imagine this.

It was the rhythm of a soil that cannot forget;
of hands tapping a tired flesh;
a throat’s humid memory of anything but ease.


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