Black and Whte



Black and Blue


 Philberta’s resplendent lower lip like a ripe plum wanted plucking. Round luminescent cheeks set off her broad flat nose. Her tightly wound hair fit like a cap on her head. Covered her ears.

Heavy in the legs and calves, Philberta stood nearly six feet tall.

Her features, along with the almond tones of her skin suggested a parent of African lineage.

As a result, and as a youth adopted by white parents, she lived in limbo—one foot in either world and often lost her balance. Often fell out of place.

Until landing in prison. Landing firmly on both feet.


Coming into her womanhood on the cusp of the Roaring Twenties, she struggled against being categorized, but society decided for her.  They labeled her Negro. Of course, this demarcation demoted her from the white world in which she grew up. Estranged her from parents who confessed nothing and denied everything. Relegated her to back doors, separate fountains, and disreputable hotels.

Compromised, she strove to carve out her own space. Create her own story in which to thrive.

And at age 28 introduced herself to New Orleans as a blues singer. Her genetic duality and the discord it engendered imbued her with the soul and narrative of the twice dispossessed. Being neither Black nor white, neither wholly present in one community nor the other, she could evoke in her voice the depths of despair; the breadth of bitterness. Betrayals.

Like no other.

Initially, she performed in more obscure clubs throughout the Quarter. Gained a reputation. That reputation drew—entrepreneurs. Jupiter Crawford the most flamboyant among them.

“Flash and dash and all about the cash,” folks would say about him.

He didn’t deny it.

A lean, syncopated Black man, Jupiter sported a red suit with yellow vest. His shoes shimmered ebony. His white fedora served as a prop he used to accentuate his dress and his patter. His swaggering persona.

His face came on all sharp angles—high-cut cheekbones, razor sharp chin, thin aristocratic nose. The man knew how to lay down a brassy line. Blew a haunting trumpet that ached with a terrible longing—it said for him what he could not.

Would not.

It spoke of his repressed pain hidden under all the razzle-dazzle.

But said nothing about his diseased heart.

Jupiter attended one of Philberta’s shows and accosted her afterwards. “You’ve got some serious pipes,” he said by way of introduction. “Why not take your act further uptown?”

“To where?” Philberta had heard of Jupiter and kept her reserve.

“Where I’m gigging with my band.”

“What’s the catch?”

“Better pay. More exposure.  Nothing to lose.”

“What’s the catch, otherwise,” Philberta repeated, meaning she wouldn’t stand for any nonsense.

“Damn, woman, Jupiter Crawford offering you a bigger better tasting piece of pie, you don’t bother how he baked it.”

Philberta considered him a moment. Made him wait. Drawing the line between them.

Then released him with, “I’ll come down and give a listen, and think on it—later.”

His dress failed to impress her or his manner instill much faith. Men with attitudes and possessive tendencies were dime-a-dozen and worth just about that much.

But Philberta read his aura. What he hid. And knew his vulnerabilities. A Black man in an oppressive white world. He may carry a knife. He may posture and pose. He may hustle the streets with bravado, but he still needed a place to be simply—himself. To rest his head. To be at ease.

If that was possible.

“Don’t make me wait,” he said and flashed his silver-dollar grin and sauntered away.


A week later, Philberta took a night off and made her way to the Broadstreet Bistro where Jupiter and his band played. Sat and watched and listened to Jupiter make his trumpet shimmer and wail. Blow open the doors and soar all the way to heaven marching with those saints. He called out his soul. Evoked his legacy and all the anguish and exuberance therein.

He bared himself.

Which both enthralled and disconcerted Philberta. A man so conflicted. In disharmony with his circumstances. The world. A man so boxed in wanted release; wanted out.

Beyond the testimony of his trumpet.

Such an escape would hurl anyone in his orbit free of his gravity. Casting them adrift into unmoored space.

As Philberta came to be.


But not before she became his Europa. His moon to her Jupiter.

As one body is attracted to another and there existed nothing else for it.

Philberta agreed to sing for Jupiter and The Starmen. She performed six nights a week. Mondays off for laundry and sleep and doing not a damned thing.

The Broadstreet Bistro bustled with business. Even white folks appropriated Jupiter’s music—as far as it went—in the club.

And her singing.

No show played the same. Each innovation, each new iteration Jupiter created drew Philberta nearer and nearer to his core. To her destiny. One rain-soaked evening, the stage went dark and from the back of the room Jupiter played the horn solo from Mahler’s Symphony No. 3. The crowd went quiet. The ice tinkling in glasses, the shuffling of chairs, the comings and goings caught in the first few blue notes held. It seemed the entire universe poised on the moment. Listened as if to a revelation. The brass-blown modulations haunted, resonated deep within Philberta. She ached for him.

It seemed to her a requiem.

And it was.

Weeks passed. Jupiter became increasingly restive. Hemmed in by his heritage, by white hegemony, no matter how sweetly he played his trumpet there seemed no way to emancipate himself from his circumstances.

Or the timebomb ticking in his chest.

Exhausted one Saturday evening he dropped onto the backroom couch utterly spent. Philberta offered him her bottle of water. He drank in gulps. She sat and said, “You need to rest, Jupiter. Playing too long, too—deeply. Body and soul can’t sustain it.”

“I’m playing for my supper.”

“You’re playing for an early grave,” she responded, unwittingly telling the trumpeter his fate.

“The thing about the grave is it don’t discriminate. Everybody liberated that way.”

“You mean, only the dead go free?”

The question remained unanswered as he had already given way to sleep.

His thin heart beating on against its own foreordained failure.

They became companions—of a sort. Philberta provided sanctuary—consoled him. Her consolations took them both to places they hadn’t been before. Jupiter giving way to tentative tender commensurations. Philberta to unchecked passions.

She promised herself not to love him. Who could love such a blaze of a man without getting burned?

But having been bereft of such intense emotional attachments all her life, his magnetic attraction compelled her heart, and months into their relationship, they spent the long hours to dawn entwined. Jupiter exhausted and utterly exposed—trusting her—Philberta cradling him, keeping him safe.

All round them the assault against their race continued. The lynchings. The unjust imprisonments—another form of slavery. The separate and unequal. When the fine folks of Tulsa, Oklahoma, burned down the thriving Black enterprises and homes in their city—killing hundreds, Philberta sang that evening with an intensity that shook the very foundations of the club. Her voice wrenching at the soul where she battled her own complications. Her own duality. Harboring the perpetrator and the prosecuted, she wrestled with both guilt and rage.

With desolation.

When that inebriated white man from a group of several other Caucasians stood and shouted, “To hell with this. It ain’t nothing but Nigger music!”

Philberta stopped mid-phrase and called out, “You’re the hell we’re living with!”

“You don’t know the half-of-it,” the heckler shouted and pushed through the throng to get at her. She, being a big woman already distraught, met him at the stage and walloped his head with an open palm that spun him about.

Jupiter, himself primed, pent-up with aggrieved frustrations, leaped from the stage to engage him, his quick knife in hand, and the Bistro burst into an inferno of inflamed folks punching, biting, scratching, assaulting one another with unchecked ferocity.

And Jupiter, unleashing his suppressed fury, drove his keen blade into the soft flesh of the belligerent. Again and again. Striking at his demons. Striking at his repressions. Striking out.

Philberta crossed down to Jupiter as he knelt at the dead man’s side. She stood Jupiter up. Took the knife in hand, snapped it closed and secured it in a pocket. Jupiter had trouble breathing. She led from the melee out into the night.

By the time the police arrived, most of the damage had been done.

In her apartment, on that steamy June evening engorged with blood-lust, they came together—a sort of primordial response to the barbarity—a cry-out against the savagery of such visceral hate. An affirmation yes where so much remained embittered by no.

            Later, passions cooled, reality subdued them and Jupiter announced, “I’m leaving Orleans.”

“It’s best,” Philberta murmured, already inured to what she feared would happen had.

“The man dead for sure.”

“Anyone could have done it. They’ll never know.”

“He had it coming.”

“The lot of them kind have it coming.”

“Yeah,” Jupiter told her, “they sure as hell do.” He grimaced then. Fading. His features softened. Philberta could tell she was losing him.

Something in him giving way—his compromised heart.

“Where you going?” she asked, knowing the answer—allowing him the charade. “From here?”

“Everywhere,” Jupiter said believing it. “Chicago. Detroit. New York City.”

“Yes, your trumpet could do that for you.”

“Yeah,,” he agreed. “it damn-well could.” He smiled, wanly. Harboring one last pretty thought to send him on his way. One last breath of life before goodbye.

The weight of the world, it seemed to Philberta, had crushed him. The oppressive burden of racial enmity suppressing his life.

Philberta kissed his forehead, slipped from their double bed, pulled on a chemise, and stood at the opened window considering the flickering neon lights, the shadowy strangers disregarding one another. The anonymity of being.

Being and not.

She grieved for Jupiter. And herself. Her soul bruised and battered—now beleaguered. No matter how close we come to one another she thought, as she observed the passers-by, we remain apart. Strangers. Always.

Outside looking in.

Even Jupiter, all said and done, remained a mystery.

Tears like pearls glistened on her cheeks.

No one to kiss them away.

When the police crashed into her room, she never flinched.

The knife spoke volumes. It couldn’t be explained away. And beyond everything else, she had lost her voice.


Months later, Philberta peers out beyond the bars that keep the world out as much as they keep her in. She can hear, in her mind, Jupiter crowing while wielding his trumpet: “This here is God’s instrument,” he’d declare. “No question. Read your damned Bible. Gideon, Joshua, Joab, Joshaphat. Joshaphat, there’s a cat with an uptown name. The whole lot of them prophetable types proclaiming one thing or another with just such a horn. Hallelujah!”

Then he’d play. Exorcising his demons. Calling on the angels.

And Philberta,



 Gavin Kayner

Bio: Kayner's poems, plays and prose have won numerous prizes and appeared in a variety of publications. These include: Passager, Mazagaine, Cricket, Something Involving a Mailbox, Heure, Write City Review, Helix Literary Magazine, Subterranean Blues, Ekphrastic Review, Smoky Blue Literary Journal, Quibble, On the Run and so forth.

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