The Peace Hotel, Shanghai, 1993
by Marc Vincenz
The old jazz band plays for hard cash, bills in advance,
song by lonesome song. Hotel guests read laminated
grease-flecked menus alongside Manhattans and Martinis
poured with abandon under a light glow
of flickering fluorescence trying to recall
Louis Armstrong’s Wonderful World, in between pumped up
cheeks of trumpet, The Girl from Ipanema where Mister Piano
shakes maraca, or As Time Goes By, softly crooned
‘You must LEE-member dis…’ Dirk and Ingrid
shanghaied, toe to toe, eye to eye in the gloom.
Bar smells faintly of damp linoleum and cocktail onions
and when In the Mood swings in, clarinet on solo,
the tempo is a hitch too slow, warbling in E flat.
There’s a bird chirping in the rafters
and our waiter’s going at it with a wet mop to the tune of
Bridge Over Troubled Water.
This is Mister Ren, our bandleader’s
favorite. Every time he goes to tears.
It reminds him of his first wife, Lu Lu
who plunged into the sludge of the Yangtze
from the tallest bridge in town so she could admire the view.
Billy the drummer hunches over his kit.
He’s about to tumble in himself,
really he’s falling asleep, only his wrists flick and snap
like someone just wound up his spring.
Soon I think his teeth will start chattering castanets;
sure enough someone’s paying for Spanish Nights in Harlem.
And when we get up to the room, undressed,
laid bare to foggy Shanghai moonlight
and all the rosewood is staring wide-eyed,
you look like much like a wilted rose, red gone deep plum.
Somewhere I hear Chatanoogachoochoo—
it’s Mister Ren in falsetto;
and you stand at the window taking in the air
that smells like fish and gasoline and wonton soup.