Billy Strayhorn Writes “Lush Life” by Elizabeth Alexander
Empty ice-cream carton
in a kitchen garbage can.
Up all night with your mother.
He beat her again. Up all night
eating ice-cream, you made your mother laugh.
Life is lone
Duke’s hands on your shoulders,
you play it again. Cancer
eats moth holes through
you and you and you.
Life is lone
Speeding upstate in the backseat,
on the Taconic, cocktail
in one hand, book in another
as autumn leaves blur by.
This life, New York, piano,
love, then lonely, this life, love.
--From American Sublime (Graywolf Press, 2005)
Note: Elizabeth Alexander was born in Harlem in 1962 and grew up in Washington D.C. She is the daughter of former U.S. Secretary of the Army Clifford Alexander, Jr. In 1963, her parents brought her to Martin Luther King Jr.’s March on Washington, where he gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. She graduated from Yale University, and then studied with poet Derek Walcott at Boston University, where she earned her master’s degree. She later earned her doctorate at the University of Pennsylvania. She was briefly a reporter for the Washington Post but then turned to teaching English at the University of Chicago in the early 1990s, where she met a charismatic young law lecturer named Barack Obama. She recited a poem at his presidential inauguration that she had composed for the occasion. Her published work includes Body of Life, American Sublime (a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize), and a verse play, Diva Studies. She currently teaches at Yale.