TO THE HIGH SCHOOL THUG THAT BROKE INTO HIS ENGLISH TEACHER’S CAR
What you know about Nina Simone
could do laps on a pencil tip,
so I’m struggling to understand
why you would steal that CD.
That you skipped the vodka in the glove compartment
but took my reading glasses is equally perplexing.
It’s not my fault you can’t handle grammar,
but it may be my fault it never took.
Allow me the honor of tutelage now:
Name the verb in the following sentence:
Nina Simone sings.
Not knowing what kind of grades you get in math,
let me point out that you have a 50/50 shot here.
What will you make of the ugly woman who sings
so sweetly from the bottom of her stories
that she becomes beautiful?
That you long for her entreating loneliness in the night
and wonder why girls today can’t do it like that anymore?
How will you explain the mourning tripping out
of your poster-covered bedroom and into the hallway,
making your momma wonder who got into her momma’s records?
Nina Simone knows who you are and why you took that,
why the record called to you when fear struck your senses.
Nina Simone sings and I know you don’t understand yet
the ramifications of what you’ve done,
how getting kicked out of your English class doesn’t make it okay,
I know you couldn’t possibly have conceived
that there are people in this world
who can show you their love in three notes.
You had no idea that some people need songs like that,
songs that reach through time and pull your heart down like
fire alarms and run through the hallways of your soul,
banging on the doors,
trying to get the demons to walk out civilly,
in a straight line just outside your mouth,
falling into a vodka double-shot you can’t lift on your own.
I want to imagine you just like that:
sitting in your bedroom,
staring out a window cracked from your previous shenanigans,
headphones to your skull,
scanning liner notes in my reading glasses,
Nina Simone singing long and hard into the night,
after a moment of trifling anger,
to see a beautiful thing and imagine it could save your life,
like it does mine,
every time the moon hangs there like its harvest time,
pregnant with mankind’s wishes,
heavy with the sorrow of thieves.
—from Rattle #31, Summer 2009
Tribute to African American Poets