Once a chorus boy off-Broadway,
he sewed his own spangled shirts
in rented rooms ten dollars a night.
He bought the Starlight Express,
a studio squeezed—like big thighs into fishnets—
between Nate’s Hots and the auto parts store.
Kids came in for tap and ballet.
Jack the Stitcher, parents called him,
when he whipped up costumes for shows.
Tricky sequins, flimsy fabrics
bowed to his skill. He flossed
with glitter thread.
He choreographed, he taught,
he shuffled off to Buffalo, no step
too wicked for his nimble feet,
his middle-aged belly stuffed with Snickers.
I march to my own cuisine, he said,
A heart attack stopped his arabesque
one week before our spring recital. Without
insurance, dear Jack ignored the pain.
His sister found him surrounded by needles—
the sewing kind—his head resting
against a bolt of pink chiffon.
At his funeral, Jack looked handsome
in someone else’s pin-striped suit,
his casket filled with candy bars
left by us, his dancers, who shimmered
near him in our lavender sheers.
We had never seen him so still.
In a daze, we waited
for his fingers to snap, alert us:
places everyone, time to warm up.
Image by Orin Zebest
Shirley J. Brewer (Baltimore, MD) is a poet, educator and workshop facilitator. She serves as poet-in-residence at Carver Center for the Arts & Technology in Baltimore. Her poems appear in Spillway, Passager, Gargoyle, Little Patuxent Review, The Comstock Review, Naugatuck River Review, and other journals. Shirley’s poetry chapbooks include A Little Breast Music, 2008, Passager Books, and After Words, 2013, Apprentice House/Loyola University.