Eubie did it better than anyone—
not just music but life as well. Sneaking
off at thirteen, already pro,
playing at a Baltimore brothel,

he filled time for men lounging on couches,
pulling slugs of whiskey from flasks, waiting
for the girl of—if not their dreams—at least
their choice that evening. Then, people hummed

his show tunes, but his true calling being
the Rachmaninoff of Ragtime.
Long fingers, doing what few can hope to,
created perfect stops, gaps leading to

rolling trills, rollicking dances on black
keys running along accidentals
of sharps and flats. Later, I watched him play
on that Manhattan stage, as Alberta Hunter

sang—both seeming unaware of the crowd
gathered about them— he having a year
for each key of his instrument; she 80,
near two centuries of experience. I wasn’t

at a music hall that night. Instead,
I stood on the edge of Mt. Olympus, looking up,
getting a chance to eavesdrop on gods
of music as they played.

© 2017, Bill Cushing

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