Grandpa Ollie took me downtown,
me in short pants, him I seem to
recall in a short-sleeved white shirt
and long grey slacks in the summertime.
I hoped to get a toy out of it.
We walked all the way to Main Street,
then took a right. He wanted to see
something, and we stopped in front
of a building and peered in.
It looked like it had been a restaurant
to me, now it was about to collapse.
The place hadn’t been painted in years,
the wood was all grey and brown.
“I guess that’s where he played,”
Grandpa said. I asked him who,
and he said “That fella they make
so much about, Scott Joplin.
Place is pretty run down now.”
I didn’t know then what I learned later;
that Joplin was writing opera at the same
time he was playing nights for drunken
cowboys in from the Chisholm Trail,
a whorehouse piano player.
One was a failure, the score to the other
was confiscated when he couldn’t pay
a hotel bill. He ended up in a mental
home, demented from syphilis.
We walked back towards home, and
Grandpa said I could get something.
I remember I picked out an Army rocket kit.
I botched it like every model I tried to make.
The Maple Leaf Club is gone now.
Last time I saw Grandpa alive he was
watching a baseball game on TV,
complaining about all the attention
nigra ballplayers were getting these days.