If You Believe: On Salmon Lane

by Hannah Lowe


If You Believe: On Salmon Lane

If you believe I saw Joe Harriott play in 1956

and in my good blue dress, danced all night

in that basement dive below Gerrard Street,

Joe howling through his sax, white shirt

sweat soaked and gleaming in the spotlight,

you may as well believe any of the things 

I dream on, listening to his music -

the way he smelt up close say (of cigarettes

and clove) when we took a corner table

at the New Friends on Salmon Lane, gnawing the ribs

he loved and in between chews just talking

to me in that fatherly way he had.

You may as well believe that sometimes

I put his records on and just start crying

and can’t stop crying, don’t even know

what I’m crying for – those decades in history

when men like Joe and my father were shadows

on English streets, or just the way

a melody can get you.  I walk the small rooms

of my flat, light spilling through the skylights,

the treetops just in sight through the glass

and even with all these tears, I’m sort of happy.

Richard says be careful what you do in poems

to real people (known people), but surely this poem

shows its seams enough to let me wish

that Joe didn’t start dying so young (at gigs

he couldn’t even stand up straight to play),

that men he used to jam with didn’t see

his broken body shuffling down the streets

and turn away, and those last morphine days,

the dog he saw barking at the window

of the third floor ward really wasn’t there –

well, how could it be, if Joe and me just stepped

from the club into this winter night,

heading arm in arm down Brewer Street

to order steaming bowls of won ton soup?