Max, I lean a photo of Josephine Baker
in this box lined with black construction paper,
it looks like a miniature dollhouse
lined with morose wallpaper that would caution
even the young Mark Rothko.
But, as in his work,
we must distinguish the shapes of panthers
in the black expanse--her emblem--
as she poses in Miss Bricktop's new boîte de nuit,
her hair oiled flat against her skull like a Black Venus.
Maybe you saw her dance--all lips & hips--
her skin one shade darker than honey
turning in the hot lights the ghostly shade
of Lalique glass. I imagine you two
passing in the street, her entourage parting for her
behind the leash her leopard Chiquita draws
as the crowd leans from the cat
and back again toward her.
Fifteen years her senior,
you will die within months of her--
that year I chucked my job counting numbers
to follow your ghost through the sandstone
of Sedona, Arizona, with a blank book for poems.
Didn't we emerge from the same prehistoric egg
amid sparks of jet & obsidian embedded in the hills
of Montmartre? "Only Negroes can excite Paris."
Fernand Lèger said to Daven, who marveled
at black women dancing the quai of Gare . St.-Lazare,
their feu d'artifice under sooty gray glass.