Women in this town are slurred and flatted thirds.
They unbraid their hair and riffs spill
Over their shoulders, a tenor sax floats
West to Maple Street.
Joplin left Sedalia to syncopate Kansas City, the South.
The sick seed took hold in the hip-swinging
Brothels, setting in the back of Scott’s brain.
What did Mrs. Joplin do when the shakes
Took hold of her in her visceral city?
Did she tear her fine clothes to rags?
Did she sit at her player piano and
Go mad with the disease of Venus?
I’m going to start a washboard band to forget my name.
I will clap two spoons together and use a box as a drum.
“St. Louis Blues” brings me back to Tim’s Chrome Lounge.
Take me to the river until I surface down in Louisiana
As sweat on Satchmo’s horn. I’m never going to get out
Of this town, no matter how hard I blow.
–Katerina Tsiopos Wills (Bartholomew County)
This poem previously appeared in the author’s Our Slow Migration North, Finishing Line Press, 2011.
Katerina Tsiopos lives in Columbus, Indiana and is the author of Our Slow Migration North (Finishing Line Press). She is associate professor and English program director at IUPUC. She has been published by Indiana Historical Society, and in ART/LIFE and River Styx. She has read her work in hundreds of national and international venues including Au Chat Noir in Paris, France 2014. Her work has been translated into Greek and Romanian, and it will be published soon in Russian.
Indiana Humanities is celebrating National Poetry Month by sharing a poem from an Indiana poet every day in April (hand-selected by Indiana Poet Laureate George Kalamaras). Check in daily to see who is featured next!