How to be Drawn to Trouble
The people I live with are troubled by the way I have been playing
“Please, Please, Please” by James Brown and the Famous Flames
All evening, but they won’t say. I’ve got a lot of my mother’s music
In me. James Brown is no longer a headwind of hot grease
And squealing for ladies with leopard-skinned intentions,
Stoned on horns and money. Once I only knew his feel-good music.
While my mother watched convicts dream, I was in my bedroom
Pretending to be his echo. I still love the way he says Please
Ten times straight, bending the one syllable until it sounds
Like three. Trouble is one of the ways we discover the complexities
Of the soul. Once, my mother bit the wrist of a traffic cop
But was not locked away because like him, she was an officer
Of the state. She was a guard at the prison in which James Brown
Was briefly imprisoned. There had been broken man-made laws,
A car chase melee, a roadblock of troopers in sunblock.
I, for one, don’t trust the police because they go around looking
To eradicate trouble. T-R-oh-you-better-believe
In trouble. Trouble is how we learn what the soul is.
James Brown, that brother could spice up any sentence he uttered
Or was given. His accent made it sound like he was pleading
Whether he was speaking or singing. A woman can make a man
Sing. After another of my mother’s disappearances, my father left her
Bags on the porch. My father believes a man should never dance
In public. Under no circumstances should a grown man have hair
Long enough to braid. If I was a black girl, I’d always be mad.
I might weep too and break. But think about the good things.
My mother and I love James Brown in a cape and sweat
Like glitter that glows like little bits of gold. In the photo she took
With him, he holds her wrist oddly, probably unintentionally
Covering her scar. There’s the trouble of being misunderstood
And the trouble of being soul brother number one sold brother
Godfather dynamite. Add to that the trouble of shouting
“I got to get out!” “I got to get down!” “I got to get on up the road!”
For many years there was a dancing competition between
My mother and father though rarely did they actually dance.
They did not scuffle like drums or cymbals, but like something
Sluggish and close to earth. You know how things work
When they don’t work? I want to think about the good things.
The day after the Godfather of Soul finished signing just that
All over everything in the prison, all my mother wanted to talk
About were his shoes. For some reason, he had six or seven pairs
Of Italian leather beneath his bunk suggesting where he’d been,
Even if for the moment, he wasn’t going anywhere.
Think about how little your feet would touch the ground
If you were on your knees pleading two or three times a day.
There are theories about freedom, and there is a song that says
None of us are free. My mother had gone out Saturday night,
And came home Sunday an hour or so before church.
She punched clean through the porch window
When we wouldn’t let her in. I can still hear all the love buried
Under all the noise she made. But sometimes I hear it wrong.
It’s not James Brown making trouble, it’s trouble he’s drawn to:
Baby, you done me wrong. Took my love, and now you’re gone.
It’s trouble he’s asking to stay. My father might have said Please
When my mother was beating the door and then calling to me
From the window. I might have heard her say Please just before
Or just after the glass and then the skin along her wrist broke.
Pleasepleasepleasepleaseplease, that’s how James Brown says it.
Please, please, please, please, please, Honey, please don’t go.