Elegy for Nina Simone
Throat choked preacher
they couldn’t settle you: You threw
stones from your Paris balcony,
charged $80 a ticket, sometimes
wouldn’t even play.
Just sat there, cursed them. Laughed
at the children of those same motherfuckers
who kept you out of Julliard—still as deer,
hung on every syllable rushing
from your open dam mouth.
The sound of you, flesh
opening, staining those starched shirts
that had never considered despair.
Not like this anyway:
low wolf moan make them tear
their hair out, make them imagine
police stopping them in their cars, their
children sitting in jail—Crazy
thing though, once that despair got under
skin, folks couldn’t get enough—You sang it,
show after sold out show, shouted
Mississippi Goddamn, waiting
for some weight to shift so you could finally take
a breath. Tireless quest for a justice
you could hold in your hand: no more window washing,
no more go slow (and those pirates still
ain’t paid you your royalties yet). Not belonging
any place, not America, not Africa, not the Caribbean.
Even your fruit-bearing garden in the south of France
too small to hold that fireball rage.
When you finally understood that fire
razing through had rendered you
hollow (Malcolm’s dead, Martin’s dead,
Langston) you stopped pushing, dove
into the vast ocean, away from people, away
from the gasoline smell of greed.
On the rare recent occasions
you agreed to perform, wrinkled, still
magic, all the while, under your breath
whispered: I don’t belong here,
I don’t belong there. I’ve even stopped
believing in prayer. This whole country
is full of lies. You all gonna die and die
like flies. You slipped away
almost quiet, but we heard,
watched you turn yourself back
into wind, an invisible child
scattered in all those places
you wanted to call home.
ELANA BELL’s performances are poem as song, matching her work of poet as teacher in generosity of spirit unbounded. She leads creative writing workshops for women in prison, for educators, for high school students in Israel-Palestine via Seeds of Peace, and at CUNY Staten Island. Her first collection of poetry, Eyes, Stones (LSU Press 2012), was selected by Fanny Howe for the Walt Whitman Award from the Academy of American Poets.