Mornings, my mother would play me
Billie Holiday. I know
I wanna die ‘cause I love him or,
maybe, I know I won’t die –
we never agreed. I’d make my mother
play the music louder and louder
as I pressed my year to the speaker,
but Billie teased each word out
into a slurred, recurrent hurt.
I tried, my mother tried, but every time
we listened, we heard different things –
then fought about it while the needle
scratched the brief, mute
grooves between songs.
Once, while tending a marijuana plant,
I cut myself.
Blood glistened on the leaves,
and swollen blood-drops gathered at the root
like fallen fruit.
Quick was the scalpel, quick the cut, the stain
of blood on white – but absent was the hurt.
I did not sing because I lay there high;
I sang because I did not want to die.
Mornings now while I write, I play
myself Billie Holiday. I know
which men play behind her
on every cut, and I know all
the wrong words. When I cannot
work, I write them down, then
fix them while she sings to me,
without my mother, from Billie
to me, a remedial remedy.
we fought for days about a single word.
We understood each other less
than we did her. Those were
our songs, those fights – our blues.
I know, although I was too high to tell,
that during surgery my mother sat
beside me in the room, as I had asked.
She told me afterward that I had sung
God Bless the Child while the surgeons cut,
that I had gotten all the lyrics wrong
in the right way, and swore that I’d get well –
then traced a thin pink groove beneath her shirt
(scar of my birth) and told me how it hurt.
I loved her like her child, and told her so.