The following poem is dedicated to the memories of Bessie Smith, Gertrude “Ma” Rainey, and Billie Holiday. I’ve been reading Blues Legacies and Black Feminism by Angela Davis and it has been an educational experience in which I’m learning a lot, and also realizing that nothing ever changes. It’s amazing how the more things change, the more they stay the same.
“The birth of the blues was aesthetic evidence of new psychosocial realities within the black population,” as Davis states in the book. She also discusses the pushback from those in the black community who perceived the blues lyrics as being a sort of vilification of the black male, when all they were doing was singing about the experiences that women were having in the years following their release from slavery, when black people were finally free to choose their mates. The new freedom brought with it new attitudes, expectations, relationship dynamics, and sexual freedom for both black women and black men. Still, one of the prevailing attitudes back then, one that is still persistent today, was that “race must always take precedence, that race is implicitly gendered as male.” In other words, don’t speak ill of the black male. Hmph. I call bullshit. The blues, whether expressed in song, poem, story, or play, is a way for the artist to transform pain into something beautiful.
For those beautiful Queens of the Blues:
I’m tired of breaking my own heart
I’m ready to move on, knowing that
I never meant more to you than I
once meant to myself and that ain’t sayin’ much.
They say if you don’t love yourself,
you’ll meet someone else who doesn’t love you
just as much, someone who’ll help you
not love yourself. And that’s what you
did for me; you helped me not love me.
You made promises you knew you’d never
keep, kept promising to love me,
to one day love me like I love you, but reality has
been staring me in the face for some time now
asking if you don’t love me today, why
would you love me tomorrow?
I’ve fallen down the ladder so many times,
trying to reach those castles in the sky you
built for me, but they’ve always been out of reach
for me; the door to the castle is locked and you
threw away the key cuz you never planned to let
me in. It’s just a good thing that while you were building
castles up too far away for me to reach,
I was building my own castles.
And I’m going home now, to a palace that
was built specially for me by someone who truly
loves me and doesn’t need to play with my mentality
to prove that love is a fragile mistress that can never
be satisfied as long as there are only promises with
no manifestations in reality. This is a door that was
left open for me and I don’t even need a key.
I just have to want to enter. I started making that journey
way back when I realized you were a jester of love, someone
who plays with love to suit your childish needs. And now
I can walk away, hand in hand, with me
and never bother to look back,
trying to find a castle in the sky
that never really existed in the first place.
So whatever the Hell you built up there for me,
just place a sign out front: For Sale, She didn’t believe me,
but maybe you will. And that’s the way it’ll end, for me
Peace & Love,