Saturday, September 19, 2009

Poem for Aretha


Cause nobody deals with Aretha—a mother with four children—
having to hit the road
they always say "after she comes
home" but nobody ever says what it's like
to get on a plane for a three week tour
the elation of the first couple of audiences the good
feeling of exchange the running on the high
you get from singing good
and loud and long telling the world
what's on your mind.

Then comes the eighth show on the sixth day the beginning
to smell like the plane or bus the if-you-forget-your-toothbrush
in-one-spot-you-can't-brush-until-the-second-show
the strangers
pulling at you cause they love you but you having no love
to give back
the singing the same songs night after night day after day
and if you read the gossip columns the rumors that your husband
is only after your fame
the wondering if your children will be glad to see you and maybe
the not caring if they are scheming to get
out of just one show and go just one place where some doe-doe-dupaduke
won't say "just sing one song, please!".

Nobody mentions how it feels to become a freak
because you have talent and how
no one gives a damn how you feel
but only cares that Aretha Franklin is here like maybe that'll stop
chickens from frying
eggs from being laid
crackers from hating

and if you say you're lonely or tired how they always
just say "oh come off it" or "did you see
how they loved you did you see, huh, did you?"
which most likely has nothing to do with you anyway
and I'm not saying Aretha shouldn't have talent and I'm certainly
not saying she should quit
singing but as much as I love her I'd vote "yes" to her
doing four concerts a year and staying home or doing whatever
she wants and making records cause it's a shame
the way we're killing her.
We eat up artists like there's going to be a famine at the end
of those three minutes when there are in fact an abundance
of talents just waiting let's put some
of the giants away for a while and deal with them like they have
a life to lead.

Aretha doesn't have to relive Billi Holiday's life doesn't have
to relive Dinah Washington's death but who will
stop the pattern?

She's more important than her music—if they must be separated—
and they should be separated when she has to pass out before
anyone recognizes she needs
a rest and I say I need
Aretha's music
she is undoubtedly the one who put everyone on
notice.
She revived Johnny Ace and remembered Lil Green. Aretha
sings
"I say a little prayer" and Dionne doesn't
want to hear it anymore
Aretha sings "money won't change you"
but James can't sing "respect" the advent
of Aretha pulled Ray Charles from marlboro country
and back into
the blues made Nancy Wilson
try one more time forced
Dionne to make a choice (she opted for the movies)
and Diana Ross had to get an afro wig pushed every
Black singer into his Blackness and negro entertainers
into negroness you couldn't jive
when she said "you make me feel" the Blazers
had to reply "gotta let a man be/a man"
Aretha said "when my soul was in the lost and found/you came
along to claim it" and Joplin said "maybe"
there has been no musician whom her very presence hasn't
affected when Humphrey wanted her to campaign for him she said
"woeman's only hueman"
and he pressured James Brown
they removed Otis cause the combination was too strong the Impressions had to say "lord have mercy/we're moving on up"
the Black songs started coming from the singers on stage and the dancers
in the streets
Aretha was the riot was the leader if she had said "come
let's do it" it would have been done
temptations say why don't we think about it
why don't we think about it
why don't we think about it

—Nikki Giovanni
from Women Working: An Anthology of Stories and Poems (The Feminist Press, Old Westbury, New York)

My apologies to Ms. Giovanni for inadvertent changes made to her original punctuation, spelling, and spacing. Poem above copies from a Spanish translation. :-)
Aretha Franklin sketch above found at:
http://guitarsallly.deviantart.com/art/aretha-22201165

3 comments:

  1. I remembered and began to search frantically for this poem (not so ironically the GodDaughter of Aretha Franklin)when it was announced that Whitney Elaine Houston (P.B.U.H.) was found dead in a Hotel room in Beverly Hills the night before the 2012 Grammy Awards ...

    I haven't read this poem since I was a Young One, but I remembered the line :

    "... not saying she should quit
    singing but as much as I love her I'd vote "yes" to her
    doing four concerts a year and staying home or doing whatever
    she wants and making records cause it's a shame
    the way we're killing her.
    We eat up artists like there's going to be a famine at the end
    of those three minutes when there are in fact an abundance of talents just waiting..."

    and then I remembered it was about Aretha Franklin...

    I think it is still apropos...

    Thank U, Mme. Nikki Giovanni
    For Everything.

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  2. It's funny, because I also thought of this poem after hearing about Whitney Houston's death. It speaks so appropriately to our culture and how we "love" our artists.

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  3. Robyn from DetroitApril 11, 2012 at 8:30 PM

    Whitney Elizabeth Houston

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