Thanks to everyone who shared their feelings in regard to my posting about my earliest memories of my mother, Vi Lomoe. Our parents remain such a vital part of our lives, even if they’re no longer with us in this worldly realm. There’s so much more to write about my mother and my father, Wallace “Chink” Lomoe, who was Managing Editor of the Milwaukee Journal and went toe-to-toe with Joe McCarthy in the 1950’s.
I hope you enjoy this poem about my teenage years in Milwaukee and my personal encounters with jazz legends like Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie. I wrote it for Albany’s Word Fest this past April, where I was scheduled to read at midnight – hence the title, which pays homage to the beautiful ballad by Thelonious Monk. Come to think of it, my blog’s named for a Monk tune too – Mysterioso. (My mother and I went with Max Roach to hear Monk at the Five Spot on the Lower East Side. His quartet at the time included John Coltrane.)
I’m thinking of making Saturdays poetry day on my blog, featuring my own poems as well as some by my Albany friends. Let me know if you like the idea. Below I’m printing the first stanza; you can jump to the next page if you’d like to read more.
Round Midnight: Blues for My Mother, Vi Lomoe
I hung out in jazz clubs with my mother
in the nineteen-fifties. Milwaukee was a teenage wasteland
till Eddie Fisher’s grin on Downbeat’s cover
lured me to strange uncharted realms
full of exotic black men. I started with heavy vinyl albums,
talked my parents into treating me to one for every A
at my snotty all-girls prep school. Desperate to see me happy,
they complied. I tortured my Mom with endless blindfold tests,
making her guess the artists, learn to tell the difference
between an alto and a tenor sax.
A nightclub downtown began to book the bands. The owner,
said to have mob connections, was subsequently murdered.
We became frequent patrons. A mother-daughter combo,
she with the social charm she’d honed in years of playing
the managing editor’s wife, the perfect hostess,
me with my expert ear and awkward adolescent yearnings.
We both wore girdles beneath our sheaths.
These were the Eisenhower fifties,
before black power threw up barriers between the races.
The musicians were cool and buttoned down in matching suits.
Adrift in the hinterlands, they sat and chatted between sets,
unfailingly polite. The famously aloof Miles Davis smiled
and asked me when I’d get my braces off.
Thinking he might want me when I came of age,
I almost fainted. Then he said his father was a dentist.
With Daddy’s consent and cash, we broadened our horizons.
Chicago, Newport and New York, then Music Inn,
the School of Jazz at Tanglewood. Hearing me play piano
at our house, Max Roach said I should go. No doubt
they needed the tuition. With Mom as chaperone,
I studied with John Lewis of the Modern Jazz Quartet,
listened to Dizzy jam with the other stars at night.
Strange how my father gave us such free range,
maybe atoning for my mother’s stay-at-home status,
the newspaper career she’d sacrificed for family.
The fifties were pre-Friedan. The Feminine Mystique
had yet to see the light of day,
but sometimes I caught her crying unexpectedly in corners.
She always denied that anything was wrong.
The music bored my father. Sometimes he came along,
but often he nodded off, oblivious after two martinis.
One time he dragged me sobbing from a Southside Chicago club
that featured exotic dancers in between Miles’ sets.
Far too erotic for my innocent eyes, he thought,
though tame compared with Dancing with the Stars today.
Miles, Max and Mingus were the holy trinity
who wakened unfamiliar cravings. Meanwhile my mother
grew enamored of Duke Ellington. Every morning after Daddy left for work,
and I for school, she danced to Duke’s music, sunlight streaming
through the picture windows, probably nude. She shed
twenty pounds, grew still more stylish, streaked her hair.
I don’t believe my father noticed.
One night, though far from drunk, she fainted at the Blue Note in Chicago,
came to lying on the floor, surrounded by the Modern Jazz Quartet
staring solemnly down. Four bearded black men
in finely tailored charcoal suits. Later, at the emergency room,
she laughed it off. “I thought I’d died, and they were my pall bearers,”
she said. The eerie glow of X-rays allowed a glimpse inside her head,
an unfamiliar, frightening map. Nothing looked wrong,
but that was long before the days of MRIs and CAT scans.
When I came east to college, my world expanded exponentially.
My braces came off, jazz grew less all-consuming. My crushes faded,
replaced by real-life love. I visited Milwaukee rarely.
Still my mother danced to Duke before the plate glass windows.
“You make that dress so beautiful,” she said he told her once.
Friendly with the Mayor, she got Duke’s name
emblazoned on the tower of City Hall in lights for one of his local gigs.
MILWAUKEE WELCOMES DUKE ELLINGTON.
Duke was impressed; a photo of the light display graces his memoir,
Music Is My Mistress. My mother,Vi Lomoe, is mentioned in a footnote.
A heart attack forced my father to retire. Free of managerial constraints,
Vi launched her own career at last, albeit interrupted
by winters spent in Florida.
Doctors said Daddy’s heart couldn’t withstand Wisconsin winters.
But she was the first to go, at sixty-one, mind shattered by
another puzzling fall. Music Is My Mistress lies moldering
somewhere in my basement, along with those old LPs.
The lid on my piano’s mostly closed.
© Julie Lomoe 2009