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A History of Western Music Chapter 63: Whitney HoustonAugust Kleinzahler
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Vol. 34 No. 17 · 13 September 2012
Poem

A History of Western Music Chapter 63: Whitney Houston

August Kleinzahler

444 words

They follow you around the store, these power ballads,
you and the women with their shopping carts filled with eggs,
cookies, 90 fl.oz. containers of anti-bacterial dishwashing liquid,
buffeting you sideways like a punishing wind.

You stand, almost hypnotised, at the rosticceria counter
staring at the braised lamb shanks, the patterns
those tiny, coagulated rivulets of fat make,
both knees about to go out from under you.

Can I help you, sir?
No, no, thank you, I’m afraid not …

It’s mostly the one woman who writes these things,
a petite, almost perpetually sombre, brunette
in her LA studio, undecorated, two cats,
traffic coursing up and down the boulevard outside,

curtains drawn against the unrelenting sun.
Because of your unconventional lifestyle
you have been shopping among women your entire life,
young mothers and matrons,

almost no other males around except staff and seniors,
the old men squinching their eyes, scowling at the prices.
What sort of life have you led
that you find yourself, an adult male of late middle age,

about to weep among the avocados and citrus fruits
in a vast, overlit room next to a bosomy Cuban grandma
with her sparkly, extravagant eyewear?
It’s good that your parents are no longer alive.

It’s a simple formula, really: verse, verse, chorus
(and don’t take too long to get there),
verse, chorus, bridge, solo, if any,
chorus (good chance of key modulation here, really gets ’em) –

electric keyboard, soaring guitar, likely a string part or two.
There’s no telling how much that woman is worth,
a ‘misunderstood Jewish girl’ from Van Nuys.
How would one go about making love to someone like that,

sitting alone in her studio all day, shades drawn, two cats,
writing these songs of tortured love,
up to the tips of her waders in self-immolation,
often keeping at it well into the night?

Celine Dion, Cher, Michael Bolton, Faith Hill, Toni Braxton –
knocking you back one after another, all morning and afternoon,
at least until the men arrive after work. I don’t know why.
Perhaps it has to do with the ‘emotional nature’ of women.

You, you’re breathing all funny, nearly paralysed.
But there’s one song they almost never play
and I’ll tell you why: it’s the one Dolly Parton wrote,
not the brunette, but it’s not Dolly who’s doing the singing,

it’s the one who just died. Because if they played that one,
it wouldn’t be just you dying in aisle #5.
All the girls would be dropping out there like it was sarin gas
pouring from the speakers up there hidden behind the lights.

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