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David Kirby: My Girlfriend Killed James Brown

Guy walks up to me in the park and says, “My girlfriend killed 
		James Brown,” and I start to say, “Do I know you?” but
I don’t want to miss out on the story, so I say, “No lie!” and he says, 
		“Yeah, I got bumped up to first class, and when I saw who
my seatmate was, I went back to economy and told my girlfriend,
		and even though she had the flu, we switch places, and three 

weeks later, James Brown is dead.” How’d you like that on your résumé?
		Or anyone’s death, though that didn’t bother the local woman
who got life recently for murdering her husband because, according
		to the trial transcript, she didn’t want to “suffer the shame of
a divorce.” Nothing good comes from murder. Well, if you murder 
		Hitler, yeah, but suppose you murder Hitler and somebody 

worse takes his place? The girlfriend didn’t mean to kill James Brown, 
		though. Accidental death’s a whole other kettle of fish. Imagine
the girlfriend sometime later on another flight, and she dozes off 
		in the middle of a movie, and when she wakes, she notices 
everyone else is sleeping, including the flight attendants, and she rings 
		the call button, but nobody comes, and she shakes her seatmate’s 

arm, but he doesn’t respond, either, and that’s when she thinks, 
		These people aren’t sleeping, but the plane keeps flying, and 
it lands somehow, and she finds herself at an arrival gate and then 
	a cab stand, and she doesn’t know where she wants to go, though 
the cabbie seems to, and everyone is happy and friendly, if a little 
	distant, she says to herself, as though they’re in this place but not 

really of it, and here she is finally in a room with white walls and statues 
		in niches and portraits of people she doesn’t recognize and a floor                                    
that’s lit from beneath, and people have cups of tea and finger sandwiches, 
		and they’re ordinary people, for the most part, but Otis is there,
and Sam Cooke, and Aretha, and someone taps her on the shoulder 
	and says, “Try these,” and she turns and puts her hand to her mouth

and begins to cry and says, “Oh, Mr. Brown, I’m so sorry I killed you,” 
		and he says, “That’s okay, baby. I’m better now. I’m glad 
I’m here. I feel good. Take a cookie. Take a macaroon,”and she says, 
		“What about the jam thumbprints? Are they good, too?” 
and he’s saying “It’s all good here, baby,” and she says, “I’ll just 
		have one—I don’t want to spoil my appetite. What time’s 

dinner?” and he says, “Baby, we don’t believe in that,” and she says, 
	“You don’t believe in dinner?” and he says, “No, time. We stopped 
that long ago,” and she says, “Who did? How?” and he says,
	“Fats did when he sang ‘Walking to New Orleans.’ Tina stopped 
time when she sang ‘Fool in Love.’ Buddy Holly did it with 
	‘Not Fade Away,’ same way Mozart did with that night music thing,”

and she says, “Mr. Brown, you know a lot more about classical music 
		than I would have thought” and then “You wouldn’t happen to 
be familiar with a 1956 French opera called Dialogues of the Carmelites, 
		would you?” and he says, “Know it? I wrote that shit,” and she
says, “You did not—that was Francis Poulenc!” and he says, “Time don’t
		stop for one person. One person stops time. Somebody comes 

in contact with what you’ve done, they catch some of that. That’s the way 
	it works. One by one, them sixteen nuns stepped up to the guillotine, 
and one by one them revolutionaries cut their heads off, so there were 
	fifteen singing, then fourteen, then none. Silence can be louder than
anything, you know. The sound of silence,” says James Brown. 
	“And what is ‘It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World’ if not classical? 

Full orchestra score, dark tones, nuanced lyrics: that fat Italian motherfucker	
	knocked it over the centerfield wall every time,” and just then a voice 
says, “Who you calling ‘fat’?” and James Brown says, “Oh, sorry, Luciano. 
	Have a cookie. Okay, have all the cookies” as a man steps into the room
and says, “Brown, party of two,” and James Brown gives her his arm, 
	and they go in, but the dining room is the kitchen she grew up in, 

and her parents are sitting at the table, her father in a jacket and tie 
	and her mother in a pretty dress and that bright red lipstick she adored, 
and they smile and wave, but they don’t really seem to know her, 
	either, and she says, “Holy cow! This looks like the house I grew up in! 
Is this the house I grew up in?” as Janis Joplin scurries through 
	with a tray on her shoulder and says, “Get up off of that thing, James” 

and James Brown says, “Take another little piece of my heart, sis,” 
	as Janis disappears into the kitchen, and her parents look up again,
and this time her mother says, “Darling, is that you?” and her dad says, 
	“That’s her, Miriam. Here, honey, have a seat,” and she sits and says, 
“Mom, Dad—how’d I get here?” and James Brown turns 
	back to the woman who killed him and says, “You never left.”

Copyright 2021 David Kirby. From Help Me, Information (Louisiana State University, 2021). Included in Vox Populi by permission of the author and LSU Press.

David Kirby is the Robert O. Lawton Distinguished Professor of English, Florida State University.

James Brown (click here to listen to his music)

8 comments on “David Kirby: My Girlfriend Killed James Brown

  1. kim4true
    March 16, 2023

    This is wonderful, David. I hope it’s like that for us all. Only thing missing from the vision is pets. I want my beloved pets there to greet me too.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Barbara Huntington
    March 16, 2023

    Reminds me of a dream I had a year of so after my dad died in 2007. My dad and I are sitting in one of those old court motels. He’s on a cot against the wall below a window. I am on a raggedy armchair. A train goes by and the whole place, pictures, cracked mirror, window, rattles and groans . Dad looks at me and says, “there really is a hell.”

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Barbara Huntington
    March 16, 2023

    Mind blown early morning. Hmmmm

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Noelle Canin
    March 16, 2023

    This is a staggeringly wonderful poem – thank you so much, David Kirby and Vox Populi. I feel as if I’m holding something I just cannot put down.

    Liked by 2 people

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