For Charmaine


On the live cut, Herbie sets the tempo
Two chords on the piano, simple—
Lub dub, lub dub, lub dub, lub dub
So what, so what, so what, so what
But Miles is impatient.
He crashes in on trumpet,
Staccato blasts punctuated by heat,
As Ron’s bass races to keep up
And Tony pounds away
And George slides along
And Herbie keeps driving Miles home,
Variations on a theme:
So what, so what, so what, so what


This is the pulse that coursed through her:
“You can’t join the Navy–you’re a girl!”
So what
“You can’t go to Iraq—you’ll get killed!”
So what
“You can’t live–you have cancer!”
So what
“You can’t make a full-color, perfect-bound, printed-on-heavy-stock, professionally written and edited magazine about East St. Louis, Illinois—with your own money—and give it away—for FREE!”
So what
So what, so what, so what, so what


Back to the song–
Miles and George are in a wrestling match
Ron keeps them grounded, going home again, yet far away
While Tony keeps bringing Miles back,
Mystic rhythms on a February night, 1964 …
She wasn’t even born yet, and yet they knew
For this is the thing from which greatness comes
For this is the thing from which life and hope flow
For this is the thing from which everything returns
The dust and the blood and the life on those 1917 streets,
Still wet from the firehoses, sky glows orange, people cry,
Factories hum, cattle low in darkness, pigs squeal and scramble,
Boats on the river, people in the clubs, even masons held court here—
The Eagles, the Elks, the Tribe of Ben Hur,
The Loyal Order of the Moose, the Maccabees, the Woodmen of the World,
The Ainad Temple the Shriners built, still presiding on Collinsville Avenue,
and all white, back in 1920-something …
But the first thing she said to me was—
sitting in her first office on 25th street, shivering, for two hours, with no heat, on a gray January day, just like this one—
the first thing she said to me was,
“This is about promoting East St. Louis, not going back to the ‘good old days'”—
And it was.


Three years.
Think about all the people, just the people whom I’ve interviewed,
Just me, personally:
Dr. Warletta Brookins
Homer Bush
Marla Byrd
Mary Collins
Damon Davis
Raymond Desmond
East Side Works!
Najah Fennoy
Todd Fulton
Dr. Juanita Harris
Myshoska Harris
LaShana Lewis
Ashley McKinney
Dr. Karla Scott
Patrick Smith
Vincent and Lekeisha Williams …
These people told me the stories about where they are today
Because of—not despite—where they came from.
People told them they couldn’t, and they all said—
So what, so what, so what, so what


nly Miles and Tony are together today, and now they have Charmaine,
Riffing on Keys of Life in the hereafter, forever,
As Herbie and George and Ron keep it going here, for now—
So what, so what, so what, so what
Things pass, but the legends remain—
The pretty girl in the classroom, smile bigger than life itself—
She finally found something for herself, Lorenzo says,
And that is true, because she didn’t need me
She never really needed me
But I am glad she brought me along to hear
Her beating heart, her never-ending pulse of life,
Stilled, for now—
So what, so what, so what, so what