- The Rime of Nina Simone
How a Slave Ship was driven by capitalism and racism inside the triangleof the transatlantic slave trade; and of the strange things that befell;and in what manner Nina Simone came back from the dead to herown Country to stop a graduate student on the way to workshop.
. . .I didn’t recognize her at first,but felt urgency inside her glitteringeyes—grotesque and morganite,melting blooms. Her skin, stabbed
with hammered copper, afro nimbus,the luminous gaze, an X-ray swishingat my skin with metronomic waves.Timeworn but regal, her spine
made of satin and salt, her boltedblack back clutching every battle-bornballad: a lone column of glissandosand thunder snow, booming and bright.
Come here, she says.Sorry, I can’t—I’m late. I’m— I need to tell you something about yourself. Listen, little girl: For every pain there is a longer song. The body pours its own music. I wanted to play Bach [End Page 160] and Beethoven for endless encores. But they wouldn’t let me and they won’t let you.
. . .The art of tamping—espresso—folding dark meadows inside my throat: fluttering uvula, lone pink hibiscus in praise. I unbuckled my trauma one note at a time. One note at a time I un-buck-led my trauma. Woke up drenched in cold sweat and furiously tried to remember my only dream: FINALLY playing a Bach cantata at Carnegie Hall FINALLY the audience would shut up and listen
in the way I needed them to listen to me. All quiet as fresh snow muffling early morning trees, a hushing frost on the meadow sparkling with untracked fondant.
But it never happened. They only wanted cocktail jazz, folk, and blues,
for me to bleed negro, a signifyin(g) monkey from my classical piano. [End Page 161]
They only wanted that Swing low, Sweet chariot strain, but I smashed it all
together anyway, making and breaking forms on the bridge between my voice
and finger play. My vinyl sorrow spinning, spinning the grind against cuspate needle.
My records swarthy as the beloved skin of Cain, bitten. I silenced the audience
with one long glare.
She pauses to show me her famous Midtown stare.
Like a ghost ship, I wandered from stages to states and countries and colleges, concert after concert.
I unglued myself in hotel mirrors until I disappeared visions of laser beams and skin, always skin sliced with heaven, lingering scent of a burnt-out bulb—still, incandescent, the weirdness.
They said my blue note baritone could find the tiniest sack of unsent tears inside anybody. Any body. Called me Black Bitch: Diva. Demanding. Difficult. Depressed. Genius. Monster.
They don’t call me that here. Well, not to my face.I can write about anything I want. I think. Here . . .here are the dead bodies and bullets in my work.Here are the four little girls, I say as I hold up my poems. [End Page 162]
Look, if you can write about anything you want, Then write. About. Anything. You want. Why do you keep panting & hunting black hurt, black scars like a slave-breaker? Why scratch the white page, a master, for old blood? Like a god, you are so thirsty, hell-bent on carving beauty from dead bodies from sacrifice on the altar.
I listen to the treeshumming through the Poplar leaves
and Southern magnolias. Bloated faces,these beauteous forms, still swinging,
limp pendulum, waxy bleach-white blooms,egg whites inside hardboiled eyes
sway and rock, roll forward, fragrant.I’m ready to find the ruined churches.
I have a second stomach now. NowI can look at my dead and listen.
Listen, I’m transcribing the soaked,splattered leaves—
You sound so tired, my darling . . . You weary yet? she whispers in my ear, of creating and fighting . . . can you stay a dog chained barking at every threat, out of breath in the darkness—and the darkness is always you—panting for more food to get published, for what? This?
Yes. This:I need to be here—in the workshop.I must look them...