anita o’day

Drive By - Shards and Poems by John Bennett

The Shard below is included in the Lummox Press collection of Shards and poems, Drive By. Click this link if you’re interested in buying the book.

Anita O’Day

There are lots of checkmates and fool’s mates and a good number of stalemates and forfeits in life, but no en passants. Once something passes you by, it’s gone forever.

My son went that route, marched right out of my life, but I wound up with his daughter, and chess has no name for second chances.

She’s staying with me now, healing from the road, but she has a deeper pain that no one can get to, so deep it turns physical. She’s fierce proud and strong, too strong, she hasn’t learned how to let strength take on resilience.


It’s 104 degrees, I cut work short at noon and my granddaughter and I draped blankets over the west windows to keep the heat out, cranked up the floor fans, and stuck in a DVD — Anita O’Day: The Life of a Jazz Singer. And there it was in so many ways, the strength and the pride.

Anita O’Day, who everyone who knows about these things ranks with Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan as the top jazz divas of an era. She kicked heroin and alcohol and pot on her own, and she outlived them all. She died at 87 in November of 2006.

“I want to sing like that,” my granddaughter said, and then, “I’m going back over the mountains to my mom’s tomorrow. She needs me.”

I’m caught off guard by my reaction, uncut disappointment. It shows on my face. My granddaughter reads it, and over her face comes a mix of happiness that I’ll miss her and pain because she doesn’t want to see me lonely. This is the pain that is hurting her, down under a hard-boiled veneer just like Anita O’Day’s–feeling the pain of others and being able to do nothing about it.

Later I’m on the computer, tapped into some photos of crazy artists and poets from my past. I call her in and scroll through the photos, and when I’m done she says, “I want to have pictures like that.”

“You will,” I said. “You’re still young.”

“No,” she says. “People aren’t like that anymore,” and we both grow silent.

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