Gris-Gris, an online journal of literature, culture & the arts

Channeling Nina Simone

by Dante di Stefano

Because America is all about the backlash
and I am comping toward the future,
I don’t expect you to commiserate
with me worth a Mississippi goddam.
I carry on contralto and deny
the depthless vertigo of gratitude.
I wish I knew how it feels to be free,
but the king of love is dead and gone now.
Don’t want to know prayer, don’t want to know man,
beast, burden, woman slung with child and burst
into the southern drawl a state trooper
spits onto the pavement of a feeling.
For parents who are forced to the back row
of the recital hall, I am throated
with places my voice would raze to shining:
Asheville, Harlem, Monrovia, Paris.
There was no reason and there was no cause
for the haunted logic of the bullwhip
to hobble out the national anthem
little girls and little boys drone in school.
I will not hum their buckshot, tie nooses
with their lyrics, or mouth their crooning doused
with gasoline. Instead, I turn my tongue
into a cudgel and chant against what
batters the great truths buried in a tune.
Melody’s my hammer; my holy ghost
building, a sliver of dawn turned to psalm,
caroled like the report of a pistol,
echoing in the ears of a bloodhound.
I’m through with cotton dresses, through waiting
for the night to whine my requiem.
When a lovely ache punches my gut,
and I bear the gap no harmonies cross,
up I jump, a face afire like sunset,
belting countries lit with insurgent notes.