1940s Dinner Jazz


The bottle sides are caked with beaded tracks,
once the guttering candle’s melted tears.
Her long, chipped nails dig the wax, they carve off globs
and strips, to shape a coded message on the table’s wood.
Then, bored, she lights a cigarette, inhales and sighs.
I watch her cross her legs – the nylons scrape – I see her stocking
laddered at the knee. And the piano player voices variations
while his black brow shines with sweat.

Say who’s got trouble
We got trouble
How much trouble
Too much trouble [i]

Her glass is full, her lips sip twice. They stamp
their scarlet imprints – lost kisses – on the rim.
I drain mine fast and raise my hand for more.
The waiter darts between the stalls around the walls,
a pencil stuck behind his ear.
He sways a tray that’s stacked with empty glass.
She lifts her hand, her bangles clang, to pick an olive from the bowl.
With icy eyes she peers into the humid, smoky gloom.

Who’s unhappy
We’re unhappy
How unhappy
Too unhappy

The piano man is old and has seen it many times.
He wears a smile, a shiny suit, a mauve bow tie.
His ashtray overflows and, with eyes half-closed, he croons.
He strokes the keys – his head bobs – his words sob.
I scoop the nuts and chew them one by one,
to fill my mouth, to taste the spill of salt.
The waiter bangs a whisky on the wood. I feel the clinging
warmth of golden malt slide down my throat.

Oh that won’t do
When you are blue

She turns from me, her legs, her arms, her breasts.
Her face is blurred, with chalky cheeks, and blackened eyes,
the lips too red, the hair peroxide-blonde. I loved her once
but came home late – I came home drunk – she locked me out.
I lost my ring. She takes hers off, and puts it on,
then throws it down. I hear the clunk of gold on wood.
She shifts; she stands and spits, “it’s over, Jake.” She walks away.
I raise my hand – the waiter answers with a double shot.

Who’s got nothing
We got nothing
How much nothing
Too much nothing


[i] Lyrics from Knock on Wood by Jack Scholl (1942)

1940s Dinner Jazz was published on Writers’ Hub in 2013.