On Writing

Poem 40 – Jazz with Zora

Jazz with Zora
For Zora Neale Hurston

Zora takes me to The New World Cabaret in Harlem.
We treat it like the meal that it is, murmur excitedly
our plans to gorge ourselves on the orchestra’s specials.

We are plunged in the mighty supping of temp
toe-tapping & trumpet. It fuses our light together
in a fury of indulgence. I watch Zora. 

See her skin vibrating, witness her chameleon
shifts – red yellow blue. She looks a murderess
raging her assegai into the smokey air like a trophy.

My mouth opens into whooooop! I slap my knee
so hard it knives in prickly pain. Laughter falls
onto the small table between us peppering our

sweaty glasses of golden liquids. After, when 
what’s left of the music sits on our shoulders, 
Zora stares at me. I feel my cheeks redden

rising to meet her glare. In a soft lean, she
whispers in my ear, her voice thrumming my
earlobe like snare drum wires. Her words

are dessert. Sugary, painfully delicious. 
Then up the fingers stand. Puckering lips
engage & the spectrum of jazz zaps us again.

No oceans or continents between us. Our 
wild howling selves – revealed
sizzling.


I found Zora in The Norton Anthology of American Literature – 1914-1945, Volume D. Immediately upon reading, I felt a core kinship with Zora. When I looked at a photo of her, sleek in a dress, necklace kissing her collarbone, black hat happy to be there, I felt like we’d have been close pals. There’s a section from a text entitled I Love Myself When I Am Laughing…and Then Again When I Am Looking Mean and Impressive (1979), edited by Alice Walker, that’s called: How It Feels to Be Coloured Me. I read it all. Took a highlighter to most of her words, each one to be revelled in. But a section on an experience she had with a white man at a jazz club shook me deeply. Especially since I can’t seem to get enough jazz these day…like it’s the soundtrack to my torso, the thing that gets my shoulders lifted. The section describes what jazz feels like to Zora…how it “constricts the thorax and splits the heart with its tempo and narcotic harmonies….rears on its hind legs and attacks the tonal veil with primitive fury, rending it, clawing it until it breaks through to the jungle beyond…” I found myself talking out loud, mm-hmmming to the air around me in agreement with her stunning words. So, I thought…I’d like to join Zora. Let her take me to a jazz club. See what happens.


To find out more about Zora Neale Hurston, click HERE for her website.

Photo by Carl Van Vechten, 1938

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