Nina Simone Doesn’t Want This Goddamned Poem
Doesn’t give a rat’s ass that I want
Feeling Good played at my funeral.
That the first time I heard the song
I was suspended in air— my first
flight across an ocean, everything
static with magic. Sixteen & off
to France— impossible for a girl
poor & country as me. I couldn’t
sleep & flipped through the same six
radio stations that coach & the 90s
offered up. Ears popped & there
she was like a shot of scotch. Alone
at first—a secret—before the music
swelled. Not the original horns, but
some shitty synth house music,
sampling the opening lyrics again
& again. & still I was struck. Nina
doesn’t give a fuck that I spent years
trying to find who’d sung me across
the Atlantic & back. That it wasn’t
until college when I found her
for real, for myself. Contralto &
dizzy-slow piano: I fell in love
listening to her. Learned the muscles
& slopes of my husband’s body
to Sinnerman & Here Comes
the Sun & I Put a Spell on You.
& he was mine, so when she came
to Boston the first summer of the new
century & we were too broke
to afford two tickets, I told him not
to get me a ticket for my birthday.
We’d go another time, didn’t think
to get a credit card or sell our
blood or rob a bank. Didn’t think
she’d die just three years later
& I’d never get to see her, share
the same air. Oh, if Nina were here
now, I’d count myself lucky
to wither under her stare. See,
what I love best about the High
Priestess of Soul is that she is too
good for me. Too good for the white
audience who laughed when she said,
The name of this tune is Mississippi
Goddam, & I mean every word of it.
Lulled by her jaunty tune, she
snatched those smug snickers out
their white throats. Same shame
I feel now trying to squeeze
the all of Nina into this poem’s small
keyhole. As if she was mine. As if
she didn’t want to smash white
things & burn buildings between
chords. I know she never sang for
me— thought me accidental &
incidental. I prefer it that way.
Want my gods indifferent. Nina
in a topknot & kaftan. Nina
in Montreux, bowing down before
the set, then yelling at some poor
fool to sit down during Stars. &, yes,
Nina’s necklace is beautiful & fit
for a queen. & yes, we are all that
dressed down Swiss who could
no longer hold his piss. We’ve come
for sadness & for the something
she has hidden inside her
sadness. & we take whatever
she gives us. Because when she
sits at the bench & opens up
her mouth. Because the timber
& the ache. The Little Girl Blue,
little Eunice who wouldn’t play
until her parents took back
their seats from the white couple
that wanted to catch a glimpse
of her improbable fingers. Because
once there was a voice like blood—
but better, saltier— & fuck all
if she was going to spill it for free.
Cold Peaches in Summer
You work the thin fuzz off each half
with a paring knife. It’s August, and
the season’s almost over. We’ve had them
grilled, caramelized, left overnight
in brown paper bags to ripen into candy.
But this, you say, is the very best way
to eat a peach: the way your mother
pulled off the fragile skin from a bowl
of the summer fruit. Sliced and naked,
they sat in the fridge for one whole day.
Then, finally, you laid the first chilled wedge
like a sweet tongue pressed against your own.
That one tart bite of the blood red center
mixed with all that honey. I think I know
the look you would have made, wonder if
your ears had the same peach soft taste.
Did your mother tousle your hair
as she watched you eat bite after bite?
I see the kitchen— each dish neatly stacked
in the cupboards, the sponge wrung out
bone dry in the drawer beneath the sink.
I want to protect you from all the ways you will
go on to hurt each other. I want a peach season
sleep-over, want to travel with you through
those moments that persist against time.
But I see that little boy’s delight and decide
to leave him with his mother a while.
Take a few steps back out of this memory
that has nothing to do with me after all.
We’ve spent twelve summers together and
yet it’s today you choose to share this
part of yourself. We must take such care
in dismantling ourselves for each other.
Desire is tricky like that. How we can learn
to wait all summer for one taste. In the morning,
we’ll pull the clear glass bowl out and dip
our fingers into the nest. Layers of slippery
moons, crescents we make into juicy smiles.
The first bite, the anticipation. For now,
I watch you: a man dividing peaches
for his sweetheart, lost in the magic
of childhood. The swift work of your hands
remembering what tenderness looked like.
The knife slides through the delicate flesh,
stopping just short of your thumb.