A Poet's Place

My dad, Nick Carter, played jazz records for himself, friends and family while stationed at Army bases around the world. I grew up on the jazz greats but only as an adult did I hear of Mary Lou Williams who spanned five decades of jazz as a pianist, arranger, composer and mentor. I listened to her music, read Morning Glory: The Biography of Mary Lou Williams and then created eleven poems. These poems have the same titles as her compositions and this is poem #3. Through my poetry, I celebrate bother her amazing music and life as a jazz artist.

Born in 1910
skin color is something fierce
rules your life
transforms your destiny
if you let it
when you are the color of black satin.

It’s not just white folks,
black folks too.
It’s not just grown German men
who chased a little chile
through the neighborhood and hit me hard
yelling curses at a “blackie.”
It was also my family members who whipped
the darker ones a mite bit harder.

Not just childhood
but adulthood too.
The jazz pianist Hazel Scott
went further than me
cause she was beige while I was black satin.
Hollywood said beige was more becoming
on the big movie screen.

That pale woman
who played jazz piano some
yea, Marian McPartland
it wasn’t only talent, it was skin color too.
She went further than both of us darkies
cause she lived inside the color white.

What did I do but change this skin thang
into jazz. I put all that black satin
unnecessary suffering into my music.
You know the riff on top of the chord,
the feeling behind the melody.

“You’re the only woman that is a real musician”
Agent Joe Glaser said to me. So I named a song for him
for telling the natural truth.
I named a song, “Little Joe from Chicago.”
I know he was talking through his hat but
hey, compliments are rare for a black satin woman.
That’s alright, cause the blacker the berry
the sweeter the m-u-s-i-c, music.
Can you hear the color of black satin
in my compositions?

Fabu is Madison’s poet laureate. Each month, Fabu and Madison Magazine will present an original piece of poetry by a local writer. Adult poets are invited to submit poems of twenty lines or less for possible publication to Fabu@poetfabu.com.

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