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the day lady died

07/18/11 , , , , ,

52 years before yesterday, the sun set on billie holiday. while the death of the jazz great was tragic and premature, it inspired one of my favorite poems, frank o’hara’s “the day lady died.” o’hara relives the occasion through stream of consciousness and shows how death can creep into your life like a thief in the night. check it out below.

It is 12:20 in New York a Friday
three days after Bastille day, yes
it is 1959 and I go get a shoeshine
because I will get off the 4:19 in Easthampton
at 7:15 and then go straight to dinner
and I don’t know the people who will feed me

I walk up the muggy street beginning to sun
and have a hamburger and a malted and buy
an ugly new world writing to see what the poets
in Ghana are doing these days
___ __________ ____I go on to the bank
and Miss Stillwagon (first name Linda I once heard)
doesn’t even look up my balance for once in her life
and in the golden griffin I get a little Verlaine
for Patsy with drawings by Bonnard although I do
think of Hesiod, trans. Richmond Lattimore or
Brendan Behan’s new play or Le Balcon or Les Nègres
of Genet, but I don’t, I stick with Verlaine
after practically going to sleep with quandariness

and for Mike I just stroll into the park lane
Liquor Store and ask for a bottle of Strega and
then I go back where I came from to 6th Avenue
and the tobacconist in the Ziegfeld Theatre and
casually ask for a carton of Gauloises and a carton
of Picayunes, and a new york post with her face on it

and I am sweating a lot by now and thinking of
leaning on the john door in the 5 spot
while she whispered a song along the keyboard
to Mal Waldron and everyone and I stopped breathing

as a bonus, here are a couple songs by lady day:

body and soul

easy living

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1 notes

  1. video: sarah vaughan “tenderly” | atolemdro reblogged this and added:

    […] related: r.i.p. etta james | the day lady died […]

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