The appetite of salesmen’s wives

March 7, 2013

The first time I heard FEVER I must have been 13 or 14. That was one edgy song. I didn’t know if I should be listening to it. I turned around. My parents look bemused. Maybe they didn’t get it. My sister didn’t get it. She kept asking. “What’s she singing about?”

The illustration and poem below are part of a book called Saints of Jazz.

Peggy Lee

Peggy Lee (May 26, 1920 – January 21, 2002)


Eyes can be beautiful. So gay and young. Peggy’s step-mother had eyes. As black as coal. As hard as iron. The back of her hand. Across Peggy’s cheeks. Don’t think your daddy is going to save you now.


Peggy sang for her meals. In small joints. With fast cooks. And red necks. And the chorus of bacon and burning violins. Peggy joined the dreamers. Dancing into heartache. To the City of Angels. Where children were begging to be born.


300 Dutch ice cream salesmen protested. The shortage of appetite. While their wives organized their socks. And ironed their shirts. And while the salesmen marched on the parliament. Shoes were left at the doorstep. Curtains closed in haste. And Peggy sang about the neighbourhood boys. Who risked their lives. To appease. The appetite of salesmen’s wives.


An airplane crashed into the Empire State Building. The pilot begged the mayor. It was an accident. And 1942. No one doubted that he was telling the truth. Until they found his plans. And sweet Peggy almost died. A fall in a New York hotel. She was tripped. At the top of a set of stairs. By a man with no legs. He leaked a secret. Don’t be in such a rush.


Peggy sang. Quietly. Her voice simmered. Everyone leaned. Forward. The waiters hesitated to wait. No one dared slam a door. In the kitchen. Or in the parking lot. In the hotel rooms. Lovers held their breath. If silence were a dance. Singing was a substitute for love.

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