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  • The Rime of Nina Simone
  • Tiana Clark (bio)


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...