Ethel Waters

22 11 2009

Ethel Waters (October 31, 1896 – September 1, 1977)

Troubles are what you make them. Mother was 13. A brash little girl with buck teeth. Raped by a man with webbed hands. Ethel was born in a manger. Where the horses undress. Dragged around like a rag doll. Through the swamp. And the smell of giant tupelo and bald cypress.

Look at all those extra stars. In heaven. Born in the darkness. Ethel bathed. In a big lard can. Until she was 13. Ethel was given away. Like a second hand kitchen chair. To a big barrel of a man. A smile three blocks wide. Fucked her for fun. Beat her when he got bored. But all good things must end. He left. She was left. To fend for herself.

Worked as a maid. In a whorehouse. 9 until unconsciousness. Sang in dives. The smell of drunks. And stale beer. And late night confessions. Hearts torn by what they hated and loved. Worked the black vaudeville circuit. Mostly for food and applause.

President Truman increased. The minimum wage. From 40 cents to 75. J Edgar Hoover gave Shirley Temple. A tear gas fountain pen. And some advice. Don’t let anyone get too close to you at night.

Fell in love. Ethel was jealous. He was in love. With heroin. Happiness is a fist. Saved by World War Two. He went to Europe to find his soul. Ethel went to California. On the City of San Francisco.

Nominated for an Academy Award. Pinky.

Thief robbed her. Jewelry and cash. Some say it was a fella. With a big barrel of a smile. Who threatened to go to the papers. With a story about her life. Ethel went back to working for tips.

Found Jesus in a trailer park. Under the big tent. Toured with Billy Graham.  Oh how she envied the Catholics. And the smell of ashes. The splinters. And the fog of forgiveness. Where you could forget all your sins. And laugh at the son climbing down from his tree.

Sometimes it seems. You will live forever. Until its gone. Like the smell of dew and flowers. Buried in the morning sun.


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