Benny Goodman

…stories of a long-lost world when the city of New York was still filled with a river light, when you heard the Benny Goodman quartets from a radio in the corner stationery store, and when almost everybody wore a hat.

—“Preface,” The Stories of John Cheever

My father was wearing a double-breasted suit
and green Homburg hat, and had just emerged
from the war in the Pacific, bearing in his arms
the chaos and nightmares of a thousand days
and evenings on Guam, Saipan, Tinian for deposit
in the First Methodist Church in Houston, Texas
where he would fall asleep in sermons preached
to aid his resurrection from a foxhole’s grave.
But the stone would not budge, and he stood
with my mother for photos outside the church
and apologized for breaking up the Eucharist,
that Homburg resting in the sunlight like
a helmet or perhaps a halo starched and ironed
for Sunday service and lunch afterwards at
Gaidoux’s. And, as I recall, one Ezra Brooks
or two or five too many. And my mother’s pleas,
and then the sound of Benny Goodman’s clarinet
all sweet and mellow rising from a nearby store
so that we all stopped on the sidewalk, tilting
our heads and just listening to Benny Goodman,
and then turning to begin the long walk home,
to begin forgetting, to begin, again, an ordinary life.

B.H. Fairchild