When Jackie Wilson sang.
Each show brought droves
of teenage black Brooklyn girls.
The red plush theatre
and the snaking line.
The entire day inching closer
in a beautiful waste of time.
Lonely teardrops from tinned transistors
and stoic patience floating by.
Filled to the smoky brim
with tough-talking teenage dancers.
Silky ribbons in braided hair
and saddle shoes and scalper chancers.
Cigarettes in purse-lipped mouths
and letterman ring-arm sweaters.
The badges of the time
backed up by official fan club letters.
The shantung silky jacket,
the one-finger hook and insouciant grin.
The little kick and whirl,
and the in-beat circular spin.
The schoolyard movers worked on that one,
knowing to master was to win.
As the concentration screamers press closer,
the hot blue stage lights beckon them in.
The fervor of performance, dynamic stage largesse,
the pitch-perfect smokey-chokey voice
and the impeccable dress.
On hot sultry nights
with the windows all open,
the girls danced in the streets for free.
To the voice of a man
who gave them the sweetest feeling,
hidden in a life full of tragedy.
A bullet in the kidney, another kissed the spine.
Some fashionista zealot girl,
a pistol-packing cuckold with a score
to settle good and proper, given time.
Nearly put him away for good,
but the smile and the twinkle say
the boy's alive and doing fine.
And the sons who died, and the daughter who died,
brought crushing devastation.
The spell of reclusive inactivity,
hidden from the eyes of the new soul-nation.
The drug abuse and introversion,
and the ex-wife model caregiver
who coaxed the rebirth of the legend.
The massive heart attack while appearing,
at the Latin Casino over in Cherry Hill.
Singing "Lonely Teardrops" ( ...my heart is crying...).
And then collapsing, keeling over, obviously dying,
and the girls are screaming for a different reason,
and the tears are for real that they're crying.
Nine more years on a ward in a coma,
the soul-man dancer inert,
silence rules in the vegetative state.
And sometimes The Commodores sing "Nightshift"
softly from the radio,
but for Jackie Wilson it's too late.
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