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Joseph Jarman Cadges a Cup of Tea


by Con Chapman


He walked into the restaurant;
we weren't open yet, but that didn't stop him.
He had the look of a dignified hustler, sly

 

 

with a learned air, but still familiar.
“Say, could I get a cup of tea?” he said
as if he were a guest in a country house

 

 

instead of the evening's entertainment.
“Sure,” I said, knowing who he was and
what he played, much of which didn't

 

 

make sense to me, heard from wood and fabric
speakers on a roommate's stereo.
“Twenty-five cents,” I said as I handed

 

 

him the cup and he gave me a look like a minor deity,
asked to pay for a sacrifice. “Now really,
brother,” he said with a knowing

 

 

smile; the teabag was already in his hand.
What was I going to do—grab it back?
“All right,” I said. No one would ever know

 

 

but I felt as if I'd been swindled.
Later, listening to him play, my poor dreams
of rock stardom dissolved in the wave of

 

 

sound and masks and painted faces, bizarre
yet dignified. Spectacle, the least important
element of tragedy according to Aristotle,

 

 

lends an air of the occult to music.
A self-conscious primitive nonetheless
partakes of the madness of divines.

Today I checked the menu of the H&H Café,
a soul-food restaurant on Chicago's South Side
for the year 1970; breakfast served

all day, $1.10 for two scrambled eggs and grits,
a side order of brains and two buttermilk biscuits.
That twenty-five cent cup of tea seemed a bargain.

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