Flames

San Antonio 1924

In a parked coupe a lit cigarette falls
in folds of Helen Hathaway’s dress.
Antebellum pleats and ruffles catch fire.
A day later she dies.
Schaeffer wonders if the live ash
came from her cigarette or someone else’s.
Her mother said Helen never smoked,
but in Is Love Everything? she
smokes while lounging on pillows in bed.

The black coupe in shade
of an oak is set back on a hill of grass.
On the set of Southern Charm Helen
with her dark good looks sips a julep
and flirts with her beau on a verandah.
When he leaves she takes from her bosom
a torrid note
beginning Dearest Love.

The hoop skirt she was wearing
flares at her hips.
The top is frills, ruffles. Her death dress.
One live ash… No more promenading,
batting her lashes at a beau.
Her body a human torch
flung from the coupe into the hill of grass,
Schaeffer wonders was she conscious
her last hours?

Ham Radio

Schaeffer writes to Gerald,

You were always interested in tangible
things: ham radio, steam engines, Gothic
architecture. I was on the periphery of
people who wanted to get the cat stoned.
Gee, that’d be fun! In my house we had
a plastic palm tree, and a dog, Lorrie,
sweet and smart, knew what to do
with cars and pedestrians. I see her
poised for the green light, the intersection
where Gray’s Drug stood on one corner.
I had the Mississippi, which I walked
around, the steep rocks, a bridge
that let me walk round trip. Lorrie’s (not
owner) steward, Art, dark beard, ponytail,
raised a knife to Sue in our kitchen.
I’m kind of like him, I’m not going to raise
a knife, nor will I, like one friend a few
years ago, slit my own throat. You had
the ham radio, which I once saw. Before
I left the city I lived in a place alone,
where someone had pasted stars
on a ceiling in the bedroom. No Lorrie,
who was tan and blonde, unlike the stars
brown at edges from nicotine, I think,
more than age. I liked that place a lot,
though people who sat around and got
the cat stoned lived down the hall.

Gospel

Schaeffer writes to Tasia:

“Rhythm & blues, nothing like it!
The languid lovely haunting sound
I heard back then, and now
when I see music I see a long
narrow shop, walls lined with
’45 vinyl discs sometimes red
or yellow, mostly black, inlaid
with labels: blue, green, pink,
black and names: Chance, Duke,
Peacock, Checker, a montage
of color and design. Up front
across a counter sat Dennis:
dark eyes, rosy cheeks, sensuous lips
and a few thin cowlicks spilled
partly down his forehead. Dennis
knew R&B very well, not
R&B as we hear today, but stuff
from the late 40’s, early 50’s.
he was fortunate to be at the heart
of all those languid melodies,
not jump tunes, but the ballads.”

Schaeffer saw him in later years
only once before Dennis passed.
A different record shop, where both
were visitors. Dennis’s opened black
leather revealed a waist that had
thickened, and instead of rosy cheeks
there was a puffiness to his face.
Somehow gospel came up in their
talk, Schaeffer said the Swan Silvertones
to which Dennis replied, Oh,
they’re the best, a wry smile
in his eyes. Schaeffer felt he’d
been right all along, these past
few years, since he began listening
to gospel, that the Swan Silvertones
with their tenor lead Claude Jeter
were the best. Dennis corroborated
Schaeffer’s feeling. He thinks—
when he sees Dennis up front in
a corner of the long narrow shop—
music is feeling, you feel the music.

Sign of the Jaguar

Deanna Shields
was a person of wealth and fame,
but died young from self starvation.
A brunette beauty
whose talent in dance and singing
extended to acting,
she rode horses, excelled at tennis
and ballet. One New Year’s Day,
a hunting accident changed everything;
the blast from her husband’s gun
severed her spinal cord.
In her last film, Sign of the Jaguar,
she plays a wheelchair bound wife,
the only difference was that in real life
by then Deanna was single.
In the film she is Kate Jameson.
At a mahogany desk her diary entry:
“make mine the mouth you kiss,
kiss of death,” shows some
of what lies behind her genteel exterior:
seemingly kind but subtly cruel
to ones who warrant no cruelty
in this big Gothic house
which sits back from the sea.
The end is Kate emerging out of the fog.
At night in her wheelchair
she rolls toward a cliff.
Her whole being is in her eyes
that say:
I’ll plunge through loneliness.
Where surf thrashes jagged rocks
a corpse bobs.
It won’t be me, I’ll be nowhere.