TILL SHE APPEARED AND THE SOUL FELT ITS WORTH
If I could, I’d stop loving
this promiscuous world.
It should be easy to loathe
the trashy lush with her
plastic oceans and brimstone eyes
reminding me I slept with her
one too many times. But I can’t.
I know the sky burns over concrete
rivers, but Aretha died today
and she won’t let me go. She’s
demanding my respect, commanding
me to come back to her, take her to heart.
She’s on every channel, smashing
FOX into CNN, making alphabet soup
from our bitterness. She’s shrugging
a mink stole off her shoulder,
calling down judgment, then
singing us back together
one bent grace note at a time.
For in her chest dwelt
the voice of the Almighty.
For in her throat thunder came
to lie down with laughter. For
her tongue gave shape to the song
of a child born to an unwed girl,
and the blues dwelt among us.
By the rivers of Babylon we sat down
and wept, yet in the Voice
we took refuge. Look to my right
and see trash cans pulled curbside
for pickup. Look to my left and see
the neighbor’s dead lawn.
But look here between my feet,
a dandelion’s perfect afro, pushed up
through buckled concrete. Then I know
it’s true. This world never loved a man
the way she loves me.
—from Poets Respond
Craig van Rooyen: “Since Aretha Franklin’s death on Wednesday, I’ve been watching the news cycle’s struggle to express what this woman meant to the country. Then a line from an old hymn came back to me. The title is adapted from a line in ‘O Holy Night,’ composed by Adolphe Adam and translated into English by John Sullivan Dwight, and the line ‘by the rivers of Babylon we sat down and wept …’ is from Psalm 137:1.”