Jackie Wilson: Funny

By Darius Atefat-Peckham

It’s funny,
he hears stories about
white boys who sit at the mouth
of rivers, a little radio by their knee,
copying his vocal inflection, his tone
and diction, the way he begins in his
throat and works his way down
like a wine-bottle in a paper sack
that he started when he was nine and
has yet to finish because there’s the
sound of alto-sax in his shoes, in his
throat, in the floorboards beneath his
feet. He hears boys like these turn into
Elvis Presley, into Roy Orbison, and it’s
funny because they say he bridged a
divide with song but there are guns and
gangs and knives to worry about closer
to home. And there’s protection from
‘em too, if you sing it right, if you make ‘em
laugh, kick your toe into jazz, smile bright.
where’s the mic? It’s not just Elvis who’s
been influenced. Is it taboo if he says
he learned to boogie, learned stage presence
from guys like Elvis? No? That’s alright—
that’s the big stage, guys like him, they
dip their toes in the blues like the tip
of a fishing pole, sing to the birds that
skim the riverbed, the trees that shape
themselves around the mouth. It’s funny,
it really is, that the twigs float and look like
black toes upturned and Your
Love on the radio sounds copped, sounds
fake because when the boy’s voices break,
and they smile, begin again—
here’s advice: copy yourself,
the growl in your belly and the sax in the shoes,
the brightness in the teeth and the deep
Stain of wine on the tongue.
And remember the laughter, ‘cause when
the vocal chords shatter,
you’ll love that best.