Sweet Daddy

By Patricia Smith

62. You would have been 62.
I would have given you a Rooselvelt Road
kinda time, an all-night jam in a
twine time joint, where you could have
taken over the mike
and crooned a couple. 

The place be all blue light
and JB air
and big-legged women
giggling at the way
you spit tobacco into the sound system, 
showing up some dime-store howler
with his pink car
pulled right up to the door outside. 

You would have been 62.
And the smoke would have bounced
right off the top of your head,
like good preachin’.
I can see you now, 
twirling those thin hips,
growling ’bout if it wasn’t for bad luck
you wouldn’t have no luck at all.
I said, 
wasn’t for bad luck,
no luck at all. 

Nobody ever accused you
of walking the paradise line.
You could suck Luckies
and line your mind with rubbing alcohol
if that’s what the night called for, 
but Lord, you could cry foul
while B.B. growled Lucille from the jukebox;
you could dance like killing roaches
and kiss the downsouth ladies
on fatback mouths. Ooooweee, they’d say,
that sweet man sho’ know how deep my well goes. 
And I bet you did, daddy,
I bet you did. 

But hey, here’s to just another number. 
To a man who wrote poems on the back
of cocktail napkins and brought them home
to his daughter who’d written her rhymes
under blankets. 
Here’s to a strain on the caseload. 
Here’s to the fat bullet
that left its warm chamber
to find you. 
Here’s to the miracles 
that spilled form your head
and melted into the air
like jazz.

The carpet had to be destroyed. 
And your collected works
on aging, yellowed twists of napkin
can’t bring you back. 
B.B. wail and blue Lucille
can’t bring you back. 
A daughter who grew to write screams
can’t bring you back. 

But a room
just like this one, 
which suddenly seems to fill
with the dread odors of whiskey and smoke, 
can bring you here
as close as my breathing. 

But the moment is hollow.
It stinks.
It stinks sweet.

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