Marin Arts & Culture May 2017 - Page 32

Poetry < Sweetwater   He drove a Checker cab in Chicago that I hailed in a hail-and-rain frenzy to make an eastbound flight, or westbound, late a Thursday afternoon                                     thirty years ago. Only a Checker could have fit that man. He got me to Midway Airport in sleet in time for my flight to Albany, or Des Moines, but at thirty-thousand feet I wished he had been late so that I could have hired him to drive me all over Chicago, along the lake shore, even under the El and round the Loop all night just to listen to him more.  Not for nothing was he called Sweetwater.   I knew him from the Globetrotters uniform on the young man in the faded Polaroid snapshot Scotch-taped to the cracked, split dashboard. Nat Clifton broke the color barrier in American professional basketball, the NBA, that is—the Harlem Globetrotters didn’t count, but he had no photograph of him in his New York Knickerbockers uniform. 32 MARIN ARTS & CULTURE He was all soft exuberance in stories of Chicago, its players, and basketball players he knew— Goose Tatum, Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell.  It was only in the air I remembered I remembered none of them.   Bud Palmer, Sweetwater’s Hollywood-born white teammate, inventor of the jump shot some said, his roommate when the Knicks were on the road,  in St. Louis say, now he’s died too.  Palmer I gather, played a sort of Pee Wee Reese to Sweetwater’s Jackie Robinson.     The forty last blocks of the ride to Midway teem.  The storm has passed, street-gutter inlets clog or the Lake has risen too high         but the South Side can’t drain, and sits   squatted in water to its sidewalks. Young men past sullen, women long past       emerge from rows of apartment houses slow, lean on peeled walls, stand beneath street lamps near the curb, no PeeWee or a Bud near, only standing, still, bitter water.