Never can say goodbye


When the rumor concerning Michael Jackson’s tragic death became fact, I raced to the Starbucks
on the corner of 7th and E, Northwest, in downtown Washington, D.C.

It was as close as I could get to the site of the clothing store (the name of which I cannot remember) where, 
in the late Spring of 1971, the tailor measuring the suit I would wear to my 9th grade graduation, would sing, and sing,
and sing the opening lines from the Jackson 5’s hit single “Never Can Say Goodbye.”

The tailor alternately crooned and chanted those four words-pausing only to ask if I was okay with 
the length of the slacks.

I simply nodded.

In part because the suit idea wasn’t mine to begin with, and because I shared his love for 
that aching, arresting love song, and wanted to return to that space.
I had him adjust the cuff length four times before my Mother gave a look which said “Let’s go!”

Today I could not tell you what that suit looked like if my life depended on it.
But I remember the exact site of the clothing store.
A glitzy art gallery stands in its place.

The 7th Street of my youth, adolescence and early adulthood was as different a place
as photos of the pre and post teenage Michael Jackson.

I was so overcome with emotion, I was sorely tempted to tell the otherwise bored barista about my experience. 
I’d say she was in her early ‘20’s-which probably meant she was more familiar with Michael Jackson the tabloid star
than the vocalist whose sound is as much a part of me as shyness, so I held back..

I can’t even remember what I ordered.

I do know that I stood in front of that gallery, lost in a 38 year-old memory.
I held the cup like the girl I dreamed of dancing with each time that sweet song played.

Reuben Jackson is a poet and associate curator in the Archives Center at the National Museum of American History.  This poem was featured on WAMU's Metro Connection.