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Recorded for Poem-a-Day, June 13, 2018.
About this Poem 

“I’d always wanted to write about my brushes with Dusty Springfield, a pop star of goddess-like proportions from my childhood. I started the poem in a notebook in September 2016 and for some reason set it aside, but it stayed in my mind. Over a year later I went back and picked it up again. I’m glad I did.”
—David Trinidad

Ode to Dusty Springfield

                    What makes
                     a voice
                     distinct?
                     What special
                     quality
                     makes it
                     indelible?
                     Yours is plaintive,
                     as any singer
                     of torch songs
                     must be,
                     yet endowed
                     with confidence,
                     and fully
                     in command.
                     Deep and
                     resonant,
                     a bit husky
                     if you like.
                     A voice that rises—
                     or skyrockets,
                     rather—from
                     a wellspring
                     of pure emotion.
                     Manically
                     infatuated
                     in “I Only
                     Want to Be
                     with You.”
                     Desperate to
                     keep your
                     lover from
                     leaving in
                     “Stay Awhile.”
                     Despondent
                     in “I Just
                     Don’t Know
                     What to Do
                     with Myself”
                     and “You Don’t
                     Have to Say
                     You Love Me.”
                     All cried out
                     in “All Cried
                     Out.”  But then
                     amazingly
                     on the rebound
                     in “Brand New Me.”

                     I hear your
                     voice, Dusty,
                     and I am
                     instantly
                     whisked
                     back in time,
                     not quite
                     a teenager
                     all over
                     again,
                     full of longing
                     and confusion,
                     listening
                     to your
                     latest hit
                     on my
                     red plastic
                     transistor
                     radio on
                     a mid-sixties
                     Los Angeles
                     suburban
                     summer
                     afternoon.

                     Twice in
                     my life, I
                     found myself
                     in the same
                     room as you.
                     Can one fathom
                     anything more
                     miraculous?
                     The first
                     time was
                     in 1983, late
                     November,
                     in the basement
                     of a church
                     in Los Feliz,
                     around the
                     corner from
                     where I lived.
                     Sober only
                     a few weeks,
                     I watched
                     you approach
                     the podium,
                     but didn’t
                     realize who
                     you were
                     until you
                     identified
                     yourself as
                     “Dusty S.”
                     For the next
                     twenty minutes,
                     you told us
                     the story
                     of your
                     drinking.
                     How early in
                     your career,
                     backstage
                     before a
                     performance,
                     one of the 
                     Four Tops
                     handed you
                     your first
                     drink, vodka.
                     How smoothly
                     it went down
                     and loosened
                     you up,
                     lit you from
                     within,
                     gave you
                     enough
                     courage
                     to go out on
                     stage, into that
                     blinding spot,
                     and sing like
                     no one else.
                     The alcohol
                     eventually
                     stopped working—
                     it always does,
                     that brand
                     of magic
                     is transient—
                     and here you
                     were, two
                     decades
                     later, sober
                     and clean
                     and still singing,
                     so to speak,
                     before a live
                     audience.
                     In my youth,
                     your words
                     had come over
                     the radio
                     and stirred
                     feelings
                     of heartbreak
                     and infatuation.
                     Now they
                     inspired me
                     to keep
                     coming back.

                     The second
                     time, 1987,
                     four years
                     sober, at a more
                     upscale meeting
                     at Cedars-Sinai
                     in West Hollywood,
                     I sat directly
                     behind you.
                     It was hard
                     to breathe
                     being in such
                     close proximity.
                     I didn’t hear
                     a word the
                     speaker said.
                     During his
                     drunkalog,
                     I slowly,
                     surreptitiously,
                     moved the
                     toe of my
                     white high-top
                     until it touched
                     the back of
                     your folding chair.
                     Then said a
                     little prayer.
                     I hoped
                     (should I be
                     embarrassed
                     admitting this?)
                     that some
                     of your
                     stardust
                     might travel
                     down the
                     metal leg
                     of your chair,
                     like a lightning
                     rod, and be
                     passed on
                     to me.

                     It’s after
                     midnight
                     again, Dusty,
                     half a century
                     since, on
                     a suburban
                     lawn or alone
                     in my room,
                     I suffered
                     through hits
                     by Paul Revere
                     & the Raiders
                     and Herman’s
                     Hermits,
                     just to
                     experience
                     two or
                     three minutes
                     of your
                     sultry voice.
                     I’m on
                     YouTube
                     again, watching
                     the black-and-white
                     video of you
                     singing “I
                     Only Want
                     to Be
                     with You.”
                     Your 1964
                     appearance
                     on some teen
                     variety show.
                     I’ve viewed
                     it innumerable
                     times, but
                     it’s always
                     exciting to see
                     you dance
                     out of the
                     darkness into
                     the round
                     spotlight,
                     exuberant
                     as the song’s
                     intro, arms
                     outspread,
                     in a chiffon
                     cocktail
                     dress and
                     high heels,
                     your platinum
                     hair, sprayed
                     perfectly
                     in place,
                     as bright
                     and shiny
                     as the moon.
                     Midway
                     through the
                     song—the
                     instrumental
                     bridge—you
                     turn and
                     sashay around
                     the edge of
                     the spotlight,
                     the ruffled
                     hem of your
                     chiffon dress
                     twisting with
                     your hips
                     and intricate
                     footwork.
                     Circle circling
                     circle: your
                     full backlit
                     hair orbiting
                     the pool of
                     white light
                     in the center
                     of the stage.
                     I watch this
                     again and again,
                     like Bashō’s moon
                     walking around
                     the pond
                     all night long.

Copyright © 2018 by David Trinidad. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 13, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

Copyright © 2018 by David Trinidad. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 13, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

David Trinidad

David Trinidad

David Trinidad is the author of numerous poetry collections, including Swinging on a Star (Turtle Point Press, 2017), Notes on a Past Life (BlazeVOX [books], 2016) and Peyton Place: A Haiku Soap Opera (Turtle Point Press, 2013).

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