Joseph Jarman Cadges a Cup of Tea

Joseph Jarman Cadges a Cup of Tea


He walked into the restaurant; we weren’t

open yet, but that didn’t stop him.  He

had the look of a dignified hustler, sly

with a learned air, but still familiar.

“Say, could I get a cup of tea?” he said

as if he were a guest in a country house

instead of the evening’s entertainment.

“Sure,” I said, knowing who he was and

what he played, much of which didn’t

make sense to me, heard from wood and

fabric speakers on a roommate’s stereo.

“Twenty-five cents,” I said as I handed

him the cup and he gave me a look like

a minor deity, asked to pay for a sacrifice.

“Now really, brother,” he said with a knowing

smile; the teabag was already in his hand.

What was I going to do—grab it back?

“All right,” I said.  No one would ever know

but I felt as if I’d been swindled.  Later,

listening to him play, my poor dreams

of rock stardom dissolved in the wave of

sound and masks and painted faces, bizarre

yet reserved.  Spectacle, the least important

element of tragedy according to Aristotle,

lends an air of the occult to music.

A self-conscious primitive nonetheless

partakes of the madness of divines.

Today I checked the menu of the H&H

Café, a soul-food restaurant on Chicago’s

South Side for the year 1970; breakfast served

all day, $1.10 for two scrambled eggs and grits,

a side order of brains and two buttermilk biscuits.

That twenty-five cent cup of tea seemed a bargain.

Con Chapman

Con Chapman is a Boston-area writer whose poetry has appeared in The Christian Science Monitor, Light, Spitball and Literary Dilettantes, and been anthologized in The Poetry Ark and Bliss.  I am the author of two novels and a collection of light verse, The Girl With the Cullender on Her Head and Other Wayward Women.  I was the winner of the 2011 “Parody of Epic Proportions” contest of Literary Dilettantes, and a finalist in the 2009 Somerville Press Poetry Competition.  I am currently working on a biography of Johnny Hodges, Duke Ellington’s alto sax player, for Oxford University Press.


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