Robert Cooperman’s latest collection is Draft Board Blues, which was named one of Ten Great Reads for 2017 by Colorado authors in Westword Magazine. Forthcoming from Aldrich Press is Their Wars and from Main Street Rag is That Summer.
Jack Johnson, Heavyweight Champion, Comes Back
After he lost his title to Jess Willard—
“The Great White Hope”—and after
he served time for violating the Mann Act,
which among other things, forbade black men
from crossing state lines with white women,
as if saving damsels from white slavery,
and after the fatal car crash, he came back
as the owner of a nightspot called, “Galveston Jack’s,”
where all the big acts on the Chitlin’ Circuit
performed and were treated like royalty.
He kept a bat and a sawed off shotgun behind
the bar, carried a hideout pistol up each sleeve,
since boys from the local KKK took offense
at black folks having too good a time;
those knights not averse to murder and rape
now and then, to make it clear who was boss
and because, let’s face it, the women at Jack’s
were mighty fine and really knew how to dance,
if you get the euphemism they snickered.
He never married, since an upright woman
would’ve had nervous breakdowns and coronaries
as often as hay fever attacks, every time he left
to check the stock, talk to the chefs, make sure
of the sound system, and welcome guests:
drug dealers, gangsters, numbers runners: not
a place he’d want a wife and daughter to spend time at.
He did have a lifelong woman, as wild, wilder
than Jack at his bad-ass, slightly coked-up meanest;
Viola’d settle disputes with a look that turned raging,
switchblade-and-broken-bottle combatants into snail ooze.
And against the odds, he died a rich old man in his bed,
attended by Viola, who’d run the business even better.
© 2018 Robert Cooperman