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Robert Lietz

  

Doowop Diner

To the memories of David Antrel and Ray Green of the Eldaros, and for Bobby Green
 

    A signal starts then darkened-down
construction. And     near
to the heart of it    / to the songs
kids made hearts on
and promises     : I'm     ( earlier ) out --
in rain     -- about
as heavy as rain gets     -- bringing
some     branches
down     / blades down
on
one man's rolling
meditation.

    And     -- if it's 1958     -- if I believe
there's more
in tunes than schooling     -- in hoops
/ lined floors
and Kiwanis-sponsored hardball --
there will be stools
to spin     -- tables and booths
/ pinball and chrome
where    the kids    are
/ and
kids    commit
to listen

    with formica to tap     / booth jukes
till     the taps     locate
a knowledge to prepare for     : sneaking
to     fames    some nights --
from     homework     traded     away
imagining     -- creating
some other place     -- where     moonlight
spills     on     spiral-bound
and loose-leaf scribbles     -- taking
a kid toward dreams --
and     taking     dreams away
from Latin --
to     Sheaffer's     on Court
or Uncle Jim's
on     North Kirkpatrick
/ to     five-
for-a-quarter     plays
on
chrome-accented
lurid
Wurlitzers.

 

*
 

    If there's darkness yet     -- and voices
call me out     -- there's
music     -- pleased as love     -- finding its way
till smokes and pills
have lost their power. I     think     how
we missed sixteen     / how
light would inflect      the ways we looked
and stood and counted --
examining     / profane     -- attracted
by     lines     of sax
and by abstractions of desire --
/ and     amused
maybe     -- when an arm
and     gears
laid     wax down
as     boys
counted.

 

*
 

    But who would have thought the lusts
and more ecstatic solitudes
/ the surprise could last well into the next century?
And who is it doubts that now --
mornings the songs and light displace
the early thunder     -- how
all that the kids     -- made glad by stages --
knew of contracts     -- could     be
changed by distances     / by this humor say
/ by this diner     and     mixed crowd
who could picture in the Fifties?    -- finally
simplified     -- kids on their ways
to grades     -- amused by some old cats'
memories     -- and by the bravado now --
as timeless still as bills     -- as     roadsters
and recordings     -- as this music
played through half a century of breakfasts --
striking them comically at first     -- and
again     ( on second-thought )     as comedy --
bringing these black and brown
and paler cats together     -- in touch let's say
/ in     places     they had not ever
dreamt to be     -- when tunes like these
were cues to their first dreaming --
and     dreamlives     spent themselves --
with adventures ahead     -- ever
and    ever     ahead     -- in '57 / '58 --
2020 may be     -- at     the edge
of space     / and at the ends
of missile crises.

 

*
 

    Antrel's :     cash     impetus     show
and     storytime --
two sets     or three     as     friends
come by
and     take direction     -- parents
of children now
and     even     older statesmen
/ playing
themselves     the flux
and     ( always )
shifting con-
stants.

 

*
 

    Love and bells. Wheels and the music.
Once upon a time. We're
part     of the loveliness     / the conscripted
or     galactic     tours of duty --
lifted from Chi     or     say     from southern
California     -- from
Cleveland     or     "da Burgh"     -- where
regional counts    -- and    regional's
the source of our good humor    -- source
of these sounds
they match to moods in their own corners --
1956    / 2002 --
when Harlem    The Bronx    and Huff
and    Syracuse    / when
Cortland Avenue and North Salina
run together
/ Power    Memorial
/ Assumption
Catholic    / North Hills
and
   El Monte.

 

*
 

   Blind    -- or legally --    and    opening
the womb    before
you'd    heard    pinballs or Wurlitzers --
doesn't he love
the sounds    -- the pause    when
arms and gears
go at their business    -- and    the voices
begin    -- the odysseys
refiguring    space    until he's seeing --
as old as he is
when asked    -- older and patient
as he tells it --
thinking    how    one young doc
and he
had prayed he'd keep his vision
and    -- more
than he maybe    -- enjoyed
the light
/ street songs    -- and
the
hours    listening
kept    two
occupied.

 

*
 

   "No wonder    the two jukes    -- one
stacked with 45s --
and    the genius    in morning brews    / in
evening booths    pondering
their endgames    -- one fitted with CDs --
bring all of them    -- as if
I could say    what life had been    -- B.C.
and earlier    -- as if    -- blind
and black    -- I'm    Ray    or    Stevie
/ Lemon Jefferson    -- I'm
anyone to ask    -- if days were more
than ration points --
stranger to Dave    than kids
with gizmos
in their pockets    / than
this century    their
layering
accents    mean
to tell..."

 

*
 

   "Remembering the corners and school stoops
/ the courts    where    worlds
could begin    to our surprising    -- and
strangers materialize from sounds --
changed by the camps    / transfers    -- by
breakfast plates    and one man's
sense of being many    -- by this doctoring
let's say    / these    scribbled
sheets in east Ohio    -- condensing
to notes    no one
conceived in Fifty-Seven    -- from which
the kids go on    / Antrel
goes on    -- in lines    / in    feeling
almost local    -- and
feeling well almost    -- some days
in the late Eighties    --
when    nobody    thought
they'd ever write them
like the old days    -- or
carry lines
by heart    / across
the cusp
of
centuries."

 

*
 

    A little like the old days    after all --
invited    to mind again
and several Thanksgivings    -- Antrel
/ Holmes    -- and    these
who refuse    / will not be fictionalized --
lip-syncing groups
and live    -- perfecting    their work
for    this
and every other contest    -- until     it's
local    -- all of it --
the locations bridged    -- and histories
of travel just to get here --
a blind man    / poet    / massive
veteran -- measured
by the songs    coins called
and every    current sense
/ and finding
what    race    had been
/ what
the    beginnings
of     light
and     habits
always
were.

 

*
 

    "Some morning's it's lamp to lamp    -- getting
up and packed
and dressed for the day's matters --
from shadows
to darkness    / light    -- then    up
three steps     -- key
slipped    / turned    -- then    steps
into the Diner    -- with
a dime maybe   -- three bills --
and thinking
joe bean for my sidekick --
getting to some place
safe
/ to    breakfast
listening."

 

*
 

    Then Antrel    / Holmes    -- and somebody
new     ( he thinks )
a    foil     for the blind man     -- lifetimes
from     blocks
where all that music started.  But
what    should    a voice --
then    several voices     -- be to them --
to their ears --
raised now    -- to    streets
where
witness    means
    a     costly
expertise

    as the hungry show themselves     / the hungry
/ face up to their breakfasts --
and the music's enough     / too     much
sometimes     -- the     samplings
or pastiche     -- that     might     have
struck     us     once
as science-fiction     -- preferring
the     head     to     heart
    / a     mind
to    these    naifs
that     still
appeal

    relieving     hearts     made up     on love
and love's corrections --
speaking     for     fifty     say     / sixty
and     more years
/ maybe     twenty     -- married     for years
and once     -- or     blessed
to     be mistaken     -- convinced
or     divorced     or     single
still     -- recalling     the     first
or     wrong --
and     kids     like     these
/ kids
            tugged in
by
their     mothers
for     first
meals.

 

*
 

    So     what     would     the music
say     to     them?
And     what     will     this     orange glow
be     -- burning
the    dark     away     -- will     voices
like    these     decide --
grounded     -- and     -- head
over     heels     -- sure
with     tricks     for
getting     them
to vinyl?

 

*
 

    A music that now distracts     or calls to mind
our comforts     filters the hours burned
/ billed away or lost in time and the kids' troubles --
with overtime     / and     overtime
the plant cuts back just when it's needed     -- until
we are far beyond     -- and Antrel /     Holmes --
with bells announcing each     --have visited     -- until
we are tough or numb     and     something else
thereafter     -- recalling how tough    / how young
/ how moved we were by Paragons and Jesters --
and changed     : by Beirut     / Saigon     -- by Seoul
and peacetime streets     -- sages in training --
by motorpools     / classrooms     -- nights     when
hits    / when     newly married     seemed
more strange again than numbers     -- 1960
/ '62     -- and just about     retired --
beyond the bothers     minds were
moved for first times by.

 

*
 

    And     tough?  And     Paragons?  Black
and Hispanic kids?  And
maybe     this Pittsburgh     kind of guy --
here when the day dries out --
waiting for light     he prays     to spill down
on the car show?  It's all an Impala
asks of him     -- his     since     the days
when Jesters     / when     Crows
and     Chords     and     Paragons     -- that
Chedwick     kind of stuff
defined the airways     -- called
up     his old man's
pleas     -- some     choices
besides the silence
/ listening.

 

*
 

    But     -- in the Diner now --     steady
or nimble enough     -- how tough --
    if not acquainted with the keyboards --
these thirty or so     -- who     take
    their being here     for granted     -- while
this blind man     / vet
    remember    times besides     -- when
kids like these     claimed blocks --
    alleys mid-block     and     display-ways in
where voices echoed     / lamp-posts
    and     "turf"     we'd said     were ours
and     really meant it     -- while
    darkest     and     island accents     mixed
/ and     "the turf"     was ours --
    so long as     codes and     cops allowed --
as gains     and losses were
    / bars     emptying     -- and     blocks --
underscoring cultures     -- and
    everywhere the distances     -- lessened
a little     by     the music --
    voices     that rocked     -- and     love
/ love     lost /     and     love --
    as     clear     as     lyrics     seemed
in their unfolding     / as
    minds     -- so long     as coffee
comes around     -- warms
    what's     left     / or     on
the edge     / or     just
    beginning.

 

*
 

    Poignant     / paramount     -- carried for years
in lives     drawn     from street corners
to airtimes     -- even     this ageless     Holmes --
recalling     that     first scotch --
that     girl group     and their lead-singer     -- then
some     bad hair     rubber-shoed
rain-mused     white kid     with his note-pad --
joining     her radiance     to start
a second set     with his own lyrics
/ off-key     -- and so     -- as
several     voices clarify
/ cuminate     in sweet
and sweeter still
epiphanies

    : iced slopes     / plateaus     -- that personal
once     -- begun    in conversations
with the music     - begun     in some thoughts --
some complications     / and the lyrics     --
embellishedor dimmed     -- as the right story
indicates     -- and     so many deaths
you'd think the songs could not be possible --
these several voices speaking light
since there's a juke-box --
until we applaud ourselves    -- we
pay     our homage
to the rhythms     / beating
that     one thing
sensible.

 

*
 

    Five     / five-thirty     -- dragging     some days
or pumped     -- pouring     some old stuff
out     -- starting new grounds     / then     slicing
the peppers and onion cuts     -- setting up
pies     for these     -- a half     / a quarter hour later
tipping in     -- deciding fortunes
with some jokes     -- egg sandwiches Holmes
already has in mind     -- thinking     "Once
upon a Love"     -- when     we     believed
ourselves     -- and     ( always )
in sweet chances     -- the ways     we do
when     voices     count on
one another     -- well     enough
to guess
the thought     another's
working on.

    Then there were detours     / round-trip bills
and babies still to pay on     -- cats
urged to pack     -- hurried away     / hurried back --
taking on themselves     and     crafting
certain versions     -- Gerald and Holmes     -- Arlene
and Lilian     -- Earl and Marge and Cleve --
Vito and Herb since dawn     -- among new cats
and regulars     -- remembering
the rifts / the dark     / the windows ruined
by thrown stuff     -- worlds splurged on
and lost     -- while     the kids     snuck out
to hear the locals charm block dances --
sharing their old man's pain --
but only just so much     -- since
there were stars     for them
/ and     lyrics     -- even
there     -- for them
to     count
on.

    So     where     should we look     besides
the "Moonlight"     for our angels?
And     what     should the stories be     -- behind
the chrome and glass and cracks
protesting     breakfasts     -- poured out upon
the urge to concetrate?     Whatever
became of forty-fives     / became     of the steps
the Catholic kids called Uncle Willie --
became of the sought and discovered parts --
divorced     -- and     ( three times )
bitterly     -- removed     from     the kids
since     she     could not abide
his transfer     -- as if he had asked
for all of it     -- this
far from air     where     figures
stood     -- where
the walls     were     once --
and     walls     were
soon
to follow?

 

*
 

    If they had been better listeners     -- better
readers after all! But
now it's steps and stitch. And     voices
( she thinks )     mean Holmes
followed     by the Gulf vets     -- healings
central     to     every story
told     -- explaining     the pick-ups
/ summer     leagues
/ the third-shift    stints
and
kids    imploding
on
narcotics

    / these blackest and brown and paler kids
in sync     -- better
than     riches     / risks     -- treatment
in extremes    -- the     bitter
and     better parts     -- when    jobs
and cash     -- when
every breath fell short     of homes
you might believe in
/ the     looks     of careers
( you think )
ripped     short
and
clarified.

 

*
 

    No wonder the songs engage     / occasion
meditation     -- and     every
breath     -- when     quarters     drop --
when genius colors bloom --
choreographing breakfasts! And so
he's     ( earlier )     come
to think of it     -- gathering     the cups
the night staff
left for gathering     -- and     getting out
pies     in time
( or just about )     for regulars --
the     earliest     voices
earlier     -- arriving     with nods
and moods
/ day jobs    to put behind
and     provocations
/ bowling     and     always
bowling
scores to count on
and    night
classes!

    No     wonder     then     -- as     close
as heart     / and     near
as love idealized     -- leaving     these     cups
to clear away     / stories
of streets     he's     felt     for     weeks
were     due
for changes     -- from     the first words
that    made
the     awful distance     bearable --
the     daybright
and animated briefs     -- nursed
news     / triple    shots
of     juice
( he thinks )    -- minded
to
cut the slippery
back.

 

*
 

    Imagine that garden nest     -- the rabbit
young     a large dog     plundered --
dying one by one     -- as the last May chance
of frost invited telling     : then
powder blue lost summertimes     -- even
as dreams     -- as     skills
( hard-worked )     / the     sharpening
and same discouragements
haunt some     -- who     leave
behind their breakfasts --
or     half-plates
anyway

    / with futures ahead     -- hands     full
of songs and help yourself
/ riffs the darkness mused by streetlamps
seemed to sponsor     -- proving
again     that     what you came through
left you whole     -- whole --
or     close enough     -- the way
you see yourself --
waiting     for     summer stars
/ inspecting
the tailpipes     / the     under
-the-hood     hardware
/ and     turquoise
panels     and
interior.

 

*
 

    Then it's another quarter joe     / another     side
of fries     / of century --
springtime     and     phlox     -- and     thoughts
of     summer leagues     and improvs --
of this     ( green backed )     violet     at the edges
of turned fields     -- and     hearing
his old man's     voice     again     -- "nobody     sleeping
( soundly )     -- with     all     that     racket
at the lamp-posts"     -- stuff     that     was     almost
something once     worth taking bets on --
counted     in quarters     out     -- coaxing     a man
( as old as fathers were )     through dreams --
another midnight or half-past     -- stuff     you would
bet your life on once     -- after     the laced
and stupid boots    -- and     four years     anywhere --
moved by some needs     you never thought
you would come home to     -- that     leave you
slobbering some nights     -- unable
to say     / explain     -- to hear     in ticking time --
unless     this is Holmes     come in
from every street   where it was heading --
tapping in     from blocks
/ maps     -- from     any     and every
place     -- where
blinding     walked     before
/ and
then     behind
    you.

 

*
 

    "Say that I'm minding mine. But who else
would     own this place    -- and
why?     -- observed behind    -- as    real
as grease-mapped wrap-arounds
allow for     -- bringing    the morning world
to form     -- the mind
at its loss     -- chipped cup     -- the news
from Kandahar     -- or     steelie
/ or     cat's eye     -- quarter     plays
that     let     omebody
think he's fixture     -- adding
a breakfast tab     -- or
scripting the May dawn
and
    late     May
clarity.

    No wonder     these Penguins     Satins
Saints! And     shift-work --
who'd have thought     / thought     otherwise --
or these barrels now     -- slowing
a man    in lanes     the city's     widening --
Bonnevilles     and     pools
/ day-ending     balloon rides     / barbecues?
Who     would     have thought?
And     how?  And     how     would you
like yours     Ray?
And     how     shall     the breakfasts
heal     -- if     you
find a way to name it     -- beyond
the range
of     innocent     / and
the range     of
    doctored
lines?

    Coaching us     nonetheless     -- through
blues     and     mutual celebrations --
Antrel's    the tune-man     still     -- bringing
the day     / the dark
its shapes     -- as even     a few lines will --
or     moving     points
that     on their own     cooperate     -- Antrel --
Doctor Dave     -- self-medicated --
marred by his needs     -- when medicine's
unable     -- and     Holmes --
and     vets     -- these kids     -- too     young
and     veteran     -- agreeing
to words that meant their parts     -- until
the mind     and     heart
/ the schoolgrounds     seem     altogether
now     -- that
serious stuff     you spent     so many
afternoons on --
imagining     a lifetime's loves --
while     texts
and classes     waned     -- to
sheer
and     ( then! )     more
    sheer
irrelevance.

  

Robert Lietz is the author of eight published collections of poems, including The Lindbergh Half Century, Storm Service, and After Business in the West. Recent work has been published in Istanbul Literature Review, The Pittsburgh Quarterly Online, Interpoetry, and Lily. Meanwhile, he keeps active writing and exploring his interest in digital photography and image processing and their relationship to the development of his poetry.

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