Erroll Garner At The Ace

By Kristofer Collins

for Cassidy Lee

From a third floor window I imagine
I can almost see the cracked black
& white tile welcoming Penn Avenue
to the long-closed Kappel’s Jewelers.
Behind the dirt-caked door I see myself
blond as the afternoon sun and holding
my grandmother’s hand. It’s her day off
and she’s come for her paycheck. I’ve forgotten
their names but the manager’s sweet cologne
is always there, like the feel of a fresh bag of hot
cashews from the stand inside Sears on Highland,
floating through my memories. Hard black hands
bent the bands of wedding rings and tapped
the names of young brides into the gold until death
they part. Like the sound of Erroll’s piano, a copy
of Gemini spinning gorgeously on the turntable,
that hard, bright music of metal upon metal
is an echo of the harder things to come. My wife says,
Frank Lloyd Wright as the claw-foot tub fills
with hot, clear water. A small Clyde Hare photo
of three women sitting on a bench is there
above the bottles of gin and whiskey and soda.
The sound of that too, the rushing, pounding water
is a rough surface across which Garner glides
like we glide down to dinner counting
the Teenie Harris prints as we go. Here’s one
of Roberto Clemente and his beautiful boy.
And you are my beautiful boy. Here is the world
of your father, this world now gone. The August heat
of East Liberty is different now. You’ll never feel
it this same way, your legs tanned and sticky
with sweat, small hand tight in the grip
of your grandmother’s, and all the faces on Penn
a mystery and wonder like all lives everywhere.
Now I’m bare-assed and high above the city,
that lost land lovely and dirty and sad
in the deep summer humidity. The sound of a piano
worked by Pittsburgh blood clotted upon the dying
breeze and something like a bird hard at the job
of survival and happy as hell for the chance
at this new world.

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