Shine and the Titanic

(New Awlins Style)

I’m a weaver of the word (not a maker of rhyme)
-but I’ma tell you the story ‘bout ma man—ma main man, Shine…

It was a helluva day in the merry month o’ May
Shine was the stoker on the TITANIC that day
when a BIG ICEBERG come a-floatin’ they way
Shine said: “Cap’n Charlie! Cap’n Charlie!
                       They’s a BIG ICEBERG floatin’ our way!”

Cap’n said: “Shine, Shine, don’t-choo be no clown
I got ninety-nine pumps to pump the water down
I got pumps made o’ pipes and chumps to pump
I gotta TRILLION DOLLAR LOAD I ain’t gon’ dump”
Shine said: “Cap’n Charlie! Cap’n Charlie!  If you look now—
they’s a who-o-o-o-ole lotta ice comin’ ‘cross the bow
I ain’t never read a book, ain’t never been to school
but Looziana Annie ain’t never raised a fool”
(Shine said that to his self)
Cap’n said: “Shine, Shine—don’t-choo know ma Might
—and anything I say and do is Right?
You work for Cap’n Charlie when the sun come up
You brings ma favorite slippers and ma coffee cup
You work for Cap’n Charlie—stokin’ that coal
You works for Cap’n Charlie—and I owns yo’ soul
You might have religion and pray to DE LAWD
But on the TITANIC I outranks GAWD…”

(GAWD pulled rank)

Shine said: “You might be the Cap’n on the land and the sea
You might run the Injuns; You might turn the key
You might be Cap’n Charlie—Well, all that’s hip
but I’m gittin’ offa Cap’n’s STINKIN’, SINKIN’, SHIP!”
(jumped his Black butt into the sea, he did)
He said: “I’ma tell you one thing—and I don’t mean maybe–
I was lo-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-ng and grown
when FATHA TIME was a baby
I done killt a who-o-o-o-o-ole lotta mens way badder den you
-done killt a thousand VC in Dien Bien Phu
You can be TARZAN and RAMBO and JUNGLE JIM
-but that’s one ICEBERG that sho’ ain’t Slim
Forked is yo’ tongue— I done heard all the lies
I’ma ride wit the water—make ma own Enterprise…”

Just ‘bout then, a banker came on board
cryin’ “Save me! Save me, Shine — in the name of the Lord!
I gots money and dollars I cain’t even spend
I owns a whole lotta people—got stock in the pen
I’ll give you fine Black wimmins—and white ones, too
‘cause I gots mo’ money than the U.S. Mint do
I’ll give you BIG PRETTY HOUSES and Cadillac cars
-give you fifty hotels and 99 bars
‘cause I runs all the drugs from Harlem to Watts
I takes food from the mouths o’ the tiniest tots
I buys all the missiles and guns for the planes
I owns 99 ships and 300 trains (small ‘t’)
I’ll give you all the money that a Black boy need
-give you ten tons o’ coke and 20 tons o’ weed…

(Shine thought for a while…)

I’m the runna o’ the world, the Master and the Lord
I’ma pleasa with ma VISA and ma Bankamericard
I’ll give you money and power and fortune and fame
Every fine Black girl in the world gon’ know yo’ name…”

Shine said: “You can giggle from the weed; you can laugh from the coke
But gitcha booty in the water and cutchoo a stroke
You can have all yo’ money, yo’ friends and yo’ foes
You can finance yo’ wars and yo’ G.I. Joes
You gots mo’ money than a human had oughta
so gitcha butt out cheer in this freezin’-cold water
You rich and you greedy — ain’t never been broke
so gitcha butt in the water and cutchoo a stroke
You can call on the Mounties and the CIA
but they gon’ git they dry-y-y-y-y-y behinds wet today!
Sorry, Mr. Banker; I don’t need Jah-pain
‘cause I’ll be sittin’ wit ma baby justa listenin’ to Trane
I’ma swim to New Awlins for some panné meat
gon’ do the Mississippi Mambo down on Claiborne Street
gon’ wear orange and gold and purple and greens
-go runnin’ wit the Injuns — eat all the red beans
You might like CHAKA; You might like Rufus
Even Leon Spinks know you lyin’ through yo’ toofus…”

Just then, the banker’s daughter floated by Shine
She said: “Come over here, Shine—save summa lil’-ole mine
I gotta body like a ballad and cheeks like GLADYS
butt like BERTHA and hair like ALICE
I got legs like TINA and a cup like DOLLY
I gotta chip like choklit — and a cookie like Wally…”
He said: “I likes ma wimmins lips red and ma crawfish berled
I like the mommas with the boom-booms and they hair all curled
I like hot filé gumbo and devilished eggs
I like them Uptown girls—wit they BIG FINE LEGS
I like Downtown wimmims—wit they nightdark eyes
I like Backatown wimmins—how they talks that jive
I done lived on the land and on ships in the sea
and the ladies on land is the ladies for me…”

-and Shine swam on…

Shine swam down past the Florida Keys
He was tremblin’ in the arms and weak in the knees…
While Shine was a’ swimmin’, the ocean grew dark
and he bumped right smack into a GREAT BIG SHARK
(a bi-i-i-i-i-i-i-g BLACK one)
The shark, he was purty, with pearly white teeth
He said: “Come over here, Shine — I’ma make you ma meat
You sure look good—swimmin’ in ma sea
-gon’ make a right mighty fine meal for me
I ain’t got no chirrens and I don’t have a wife
but one thing I got is yo’ no-swimmin’ life
I’ma take you and eatcha and swallow you whole
-make you cuss the very day yo’ mammy borned yo’ soul
I’m BIG and I’m STRONG—I takes what I like
I done robbed Robin Givens — and beat up Mike
Yeah, Mr. Shine, Mack The Knife is sweet
‘cause I can outswim a wave — and I likes dark meat
I rules all the waters; I’m the Kinga the Sea
Ain’t ‘nair whale or minnow can git past me
All the fishes in the water gits outa ma way
from the Rocka Gibraltar to Barataria Bay
Ran into a whale; he thought he was slick
-lil’ minnow told me his name was ‘Moby Dick’
When I tore ma teeth inta that lil’ ole whale
he had to hang out a sign sayin’ ‘Blubber For Sale’
I done wrote wit Alex Haley and dunked with Kareem
hung wit I.W. Harper, got drunk with Jim Beam
I done ate up the bones o’ Gunga Din
got Captain Bligh’s blood on ma chinny-chin-chin
I done ate up some pirates when they walked the plank
I done lied wit Nixon and sang wit Frank
I done ate German subs and planes fulla people
ate the rock from the Hudson and the bell from the steeple
I done ate up the quail that was hidin’ in the bush
took yo’ gran’ma to the mountain and gave her a push
(I’m a mea-ea-ea-ea-ean shark)
I don’t ate up Sally; I done ate up Sue
Start chokin’; Quit strokin’—I’ma eat up you!”

Shine said: “Mr. Shark, I’ma tell you (and it ain’t no lie) —
I taught the Signifyin’ Monkey howta signify
I done taught Hank Aaron howta hit the ball
I showed Barbie’s mammy howta make a doll
That ain’t really nuthin’, ‘cause I’ll tell you what —
I done showed BIG BERTHA howta do DA BUTT
You might rule the water from London to Selma
but choo ain’t no better den J.J. and Thelma
Ma daddy’s a poet; Ma momma’s a singer
I gotta uncle out West who’s a ba-a-a-a-a-a-ad gunslinger
(kilt three white men—and lived, he did)
If you wants you some bones and some flesh to tear
— there’s a Cap’n and a banker and his daughter out there
If you might chance to think you can catch this man
you might as well be a tuna in a tunafish can (Sorry, Charlie)
Who you out cheer call yo’self tryin’ to warn?
All you sayin’ ain’t but ‘talk behind the barn’
You mighta ate a lotta pirates when they walked the plank
-but I likes shark meat — don’tcha see ma shank?
I likes red silky shirts  (I done paid ma dues)
I like black Cadillacs — and sharkskin shoes
You might rule the ocean, reign over the sea
But-choo gotta grow new fins to outswim me…”

And Shine swam on…

The TITANIC sank and a lotta folk died
Grandmommas was weepin’ and lil’ babies cried…
When the news hit shore ‘bout the TITANIC that night
Shine was in New Awlins — high as a kite!
He played him some music wit SATCHA-MOE
went to a semma terry party wit Marie Laveau
He was the slickest and the quickest
He was fine like wine
He was the wicked in the picket
(ma man, Shine)…

They thought Shine was dead, some   where down afar
But Shine was in New Awlins—
hankin’ and-a pankin’
glidin’ and-a slidin’
honkin’ and-a tonkin’
dreamin’ and-a schemin’
smackin’ and-a mackin’
smokin’ and-a jokin’
bammin’ and-a jammin’
flimmin’ and-a flammin’
stuntin’ and-a frontin’
jumpin’ and-a bumpin’
winkin’ and-a blinkin’
coolin’ and-a schoolin’
juicin’ and-a goosin’
hangin’ and-a bangin’
waggin’ and-a flaggin’
dippin’ and-a trippin’
skippin’ and-a slippin’
skinnin’ and-a grinnin’
rappin’ and-a yappin’
buggin’ and-a huggin’
gigglin’ and-a wigglin’
hobbin’ and-a knobbin’
peepin’ and-a creepin’
maxin’ and-a relaxin’
funkin’ and-a junkin’
chilllin’ and-a illin’

—in the Neighborhood Bar
Yeah. Yeah. In the Neighborhood Bar . . .

Arthur Pfister
from his book My Name is New Orleans
Margaret Media 2009
reprinted with permission of the poet

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