"The Day Lady Died, Lady Died," by Fred Moramarco

I’m driving along Interstate 8, it’s 12:20, a Monday

and I pop the new cassette I bought for $1.64

into my hot new state-of-the-art in-dash stereo

so I can hear what kind of Billie Holiday songs

could possibly be on this tape for only $1.64,

and out of the speakers comes the shrill

unmistakable sound of her voice, soaked in booze and

wavering out of control, just this side of oblivion:

I make a date for golf and you can bet your ass it rains,

and she pronounces “ass” “ash” slurring the phrase into

the laughter that follows it and I’m aware that this is

no regular tape, but some bootlegged rehearsal session

late in Lady’s life, some time in the ’50s and she’s reminiscing

with the piano player about her early days in the music biz

singing with Charlie Johnson’s all-Negro band

and I can’t quite believe what I’m hearing for $1.64

when she starts again, no fooling around this time,

I make a date for golf and you can bet your life it rains,

and I’ve lost track of where I’m going by now

as she settles into the melody with her old friend pain

while I turn onto Interstate 5 heading up the California coast

a long way from the Five Spot where everyone and Frank O’Hara

stopped breathing.

Fred Moramarco is a poet, literary critic, producer, director, and actor. He is the founding editor of
Poetry International, coproduced the award-winning Hannah and Martin at the Lyceum Theatre in 2006, and has performed at the Old Globe, the San Diego Rep, Sledgehammer, Diversionary Theatre, and with other San Diego theater companies. He is the author and editor of several books, including Containing Multitudes: Poetry in the U.S. since 1950; Men of Our Time; and Deliciously Italian. The title of this poem and its final line refer to a well-known poem about Billie Holiday by the poet Frank O’Hara. Billie Holiday, “Lady Day,” was born April 7, 1915. “The Day Lady Died, Lady Died” is from Moramarco’s collection The City of Eden, published by Laterthanever Productions, and is reprinted by permission. The author’s photo is by Paul Savage.

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