So this is how she was
when she sang . . .
Her shoulders closed
her body over memory
of all she had heard,
screams in the dark
that stayed as moans
you can’t release
except in song.
She listened when
she could to blues,
Ma Rainey, Bessie,
Billie, and a hundred
Her first name meant something because that’s what they say when they say hello.
Her daddy’s name was Carter, the boxer you’ve heard so much about, she said
to whomever was egregious enough to pry into her past. The scar should be enough:
the scar. She sang blues for how she got to be the way she looked. Fucked around
at his place and had to walk home in the dark–that was before Dave, she recalled . . .
I had no home, no Lu Ann, no Black and Tan, no nothing that don’t wear you down
and blunt your edges so you begin to look the way you feel except when you love
the man who ends up not as much in love with you, he’s an excuse to do blues then.
I learned to listen to them until I mimicked them and wrote my own songs down.
I sang them first, I sang them last, I changed them so slowly in between this guy
and that, I had no anchor to the earth except these songs. Those I learned most from
were the old ones like C. C. Rider, Careless Love, Make Me a Pallet on the Floor,
St. James Infirmary, you know the kind, women can sing them just as well as men.
And women who knew how to do blues, Rainey, Smith, Holiday, I still listen to
for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and keep my body going so the old songs can gin
in me all I need for food, drink, sleep, all the other reasons to sign off with last call.
She’d riff off Easy Rider once
and hold all the new words in
and let them out one by one
till her throat opened too wide
to hold in all she had to say,
the first word knowing already
the last one, what it would be,
and payed them out like ribbon
before the next one’s cut short
and lets all the other follow . . .
Oooh, your love loved loving me
till I rocked my rocking chair
waiting, waiting long for you
because I loved to rock you there,
which was not what she wanted.
She let the words set to get hard.
She couldn’t play a lick, but she
could sing, by God, and sang,
Lean back and let me rock you
till the sky gets free of dawn.
Oooh, send me on home, send me
where my body won’t fall down.
She had to wait to write up there
where you could hear them hear
what you went through to say
why even the blues asked why.
(16 March 2012)
copyright 2012 by Floyce Alexander