Thursday, August 26, 2004


By: A. L. Letson Jr.

Girl, get down here and wash these dishes.
You know what you suppose to do!!!”

You got to think
That somewhere along the line
Her parents had something to do with it.

North Cakalaky whuppins’
from the hand that loved her the most.

It’s summer,
1943 in Tryon North Carolina
And the sun bakes your skin,
Without mercy or regard.
White folks getting red,
like the blood under their skin
is about to boil.
Black folks getting blacka
Like midnight their father,
Has stretched his fingers
around their collective soul
In an effort to taken them home.

Mississippi Goddamn!
But right now we in North Carolina

As Eunice Kathleen Waymon
Sits on the mahogany bench
Ten year old fingers
Preparing to tickle the ebony and ivory
It’s her first piano recital at the Robert E. Lee Library
in Downtown Tryon
and everybody who’s anybody, in this small southern hamlet
has come to see the little colored girl,
that can play so well.

Her parents on the front row,
her four brothers, and three sisters,
floating somewhere in the periphery.

She arches her back
relaxes her fingers and begins
to play.

She doesn’t sing,
She just closes her eyes.
and plays.

There is music in her fingertips,
that comes forward when pressed against
the temporary friction of Piano keys.
She hears the silence between
the notes,
In the wide open spaces
where only her,
and the music reside.

But something is happening outside
She tries to ignore it
and just play.
But something is happening outside
She tries to ignore it
and just play.
Just play,
Just play
Like her teacher taught her
But, it’s too loud and she has to look.
Her fingers continue to move
On autopilot she glances
at the audience
As the librarian, is escorting her parents
from the front row to the back
So a white couple can have their seat.

Mississippi Goddamn.

But we’re in Tryon right now.

And she’s looking at the white keys
beneath her powerless ten year old fingers,
that are still playing
the water in her eyes is too heavy,
and it just wants to fall.
And she wants to stop.
There are some burdens ten year olds
should not be forced to carry,
but she can’t let it drop.

She finishes the song,
To thunderous applause,
But she doesn’t want to play no more.
It aint fun no more.
She wanna go home.

Until over the heads of the smiling,
homogenized, crowd she sees her daddy’s face,
as he mouths the words,
“You know what you suppose to do”

And she closes her eyes
and plays.

But this time her fingers hit the keys harder
Play a little faster.
That wide open space has got fire in it now
Higher than it now
And it just don’t wanna stop.
she can’t let it drop.
So she plays and plays and plays
Until the pain goes away.
Missippipp Goddamn!

But it never goes away for long.

Twenty years later
After she’s renamed herself
From a boyfriend’s pet name,
And a French actress.
So she can sing in piano bars
to pay for her education
without her momma knowing.

Twenty years from
that piano recital,
she’s a star now.
But the pain don’t stop

It’s born in the faces
Of four dead black girls
Charred in the remains of an Alabama church

Carried on the wings of Negro Spirituals,
And in the righteousness of civil disobedience
It’s given a rhythm by the marching protestors
Who’s eyes were watching God as they put
One foot in front of the other,

The pain is hidden,
Under the weight fire hoses,
Attacking dogs
And swinging nooses

But on June 12th 1963
As the children of Medger Evers
Watch their daddy bleed to death
On the front steps
From a gun shot in the back
The pain becomes to much to bare…
Mississippi Goddamn

And she wants to cry
But she hears her daddy’s voice.
“you know what you suppose to do…”

Ms. Nina Simone
walks out from back stage
Sits on a mahogany bench
Fingers preparing to caress the ebony and ivory
It’s 1964 Carnegie Hal
New York, New York.
And even here black girls should know their place
They want her to laugh
Sing the blues, Gershwin maybe.
And she does
Until that pain comes back.
Half way through the set
She finishes a song, arches her back
Nods to the band
And plays….

Mississippi Goddamn

Copywright 2004 Al Letson

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