You, Me and Sam (for Sam Cooke fans)

This is a poem I wrote when I was courting my wife. I read it to her over the phone late one night. She had heard the few Sam Cooke songs played on the radio (You Send Me, Venus, etc.) but no others. At one point as I read it to her, she let out a little gasp, one of those sudden inhalations that let me know I really got her. Since I quote some Sam Cooke’s lyrics in the poem, I give him more credit for that gasp than myself. But for all the enjoyment his singing has given me, it is credit gratefully given.

The poem will be vastly improved by listening to the Sam Cooke song referenced while reading – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WwuCLxCfdB0

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I can’t watch a sitcom so soon after the news.
Too much sadness has left my heart barren tonight.
Sirens are screaming somewhere in the distance
In this old world, it seems like nothing is right.

Television and movies seem to thrive on this stuff.
I suppose it keeps the almighty bucks rolling in.
Maybe peace and quiet never last very long
Because so many profit from horror and sin.

So let’s turn off the TV and light a few candles.
Put on some Sam Cooke – an album, not a CD.
I know they sound better, but they have no charm.
I like the lived-in crackles of an old, vinyl LP.

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Turn it up loud enough to drown out the madness,
The hubbub of all this progress for its own sake.
Sometimes all the mayhem invades me too deeply
And I need some soft music to ease the heartache.

Yeah, that’s better. Nobody could sing it like Sam.
The sweet, simple melody makes you feel so fine.
I’ve heard this song so many times, it’s part of me.
It’s like I wrote it for you; like the lyrics are mine.

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If I go
A million miles away
I’ll write a letter
Each and every day
‘Cause honey, nothin’, nothin’
Can ever change this love I have for you

There aren’t many refuges in this old city;
The silence marred by shouts and alarms.
I’m just old-fashioned – born too late, as they say.
I hide in music, but especially in your arms.

Even Sam fell victim to the night and this city,
Shot down in his prime in some seedy motel.
He had so much left to give when he was taken.
His music makes me feel like I knew him so well.

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Those old songs never fail to quiet my soul.
I wish this world could be the one they created.
Though I know their harmony is just an illusion.
Back then, like today, folks still fought and hated.

Music brushes away the dust of this world
And reinvents it again the way it should be.
My favorite songs are a lot like fairy tales.
They turn their back on reality, just like me.

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Music and love both serve a similar purpose
For a union of souls is the grandest refuge of all.
In this slow dance, we create our own fairy tale.
I’m the prince and you’re the belle of the ball.

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Oh, you’re the apple of my eye
You’re cherry pie
You’re cake and ice cream
You’re sugar and spice and everything nice
You’re the girl of my dreams

Thank you for the peace you’ve given to me.
Thank you for loving me the way that you do.
I wish I could hold you just like this forever.
There’s no greater heaven than here, close to you.

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Sam’s singing all the words I don’t tell you enough.
Strong, clear and sweet, and wrapped up in a song.
He’s smiling in heaven, singing just for you and me.
The day’s washed away, and we have all night long.

If you wanted
To leave me and roam,
When you got back,
I’d just say welcome home
Cause, honey, nothin’,
nothin’ can ever change
This love I have for you

 

 

 

Sam Cooke 1/22/31 – 12/11/64

Sam is buried at the Forest Lawn Cemetery in Glendale, California, a few miles from where I live. I visited his grave one day (against cemetery rules) and sang a few of his songs next to it. I hope he heard in heaven and was merciful in his critique. What they lacked in virtuosity, they made up for in sincerity. 

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The Couple That Dances Together . . .

I’ve never been much of a dancer, but I don’t blame myself entirely. I grew up in the dark ages of dancing, when club-goers danced without any hint of choreography, no or very little touching, and without even looking at each other. I never saw the point of it. They may as well have been dancing alone.

But even then, I thought dancing should be what the name implies – a dance, two people blending together to make something beautiful, exquisite, transcending the mundane and ordinary, a synchronized celebration of life and love. (And yes, I know how corny that sounds.)

I would imagine dancing together like this helps a marriage, too. After all, a marriage is a kind of dance. As Garth Brooks sang, “I could have missed the pain, but I’d have had to miss the dance.”

Another country song claims “life is a dance you learn as you go” – symbolically jumping into life rather than standing against the wall watching others enjoy themselves. Organized, mutual joy rather than disorganized narcissism.

It seems dancing reflects the age. Maybe the lack of synchronicity and dances with actual names – the Lindy Hop, Jitterbug, East Coast Swing and Jive for swing dancing, for instance, or the Waltz, Foxtrot, Tango, Rumba, Cha Cha and Jive for ballroom dancing (to name a few) – is one of the reasons marriages aren’t as strong in the modern world as they were during World War II, the heyday of swing and ballroom dance. Synchronicity died, people became separated, more into themselves than each other, and so did marriages.

There’s something especially beautiful about watching older folks like this dance. They may have lost the athleticism of their youth but, after all the storms that inevitably come during a marriage, and the ravages of time, they’re still up there doing it. Dancing together. They won.