270 Readings

When Billie Sings “Strange Fruit”

Wilmot hears the muted trumpet behind her—

and weeps.  A child’s tongue
babbling before

bebop’s clarity in coming
years, water in a cup

from a potter’s wheel,

wave from a mother on shore
as ships’ engines roar, steam

for gold-paved streets.
 Wilmot’s grandfather sat

on the boat with hers and customs
changed the family’s names.  Wilmot’s Gramps

made cornets, hers, pocket trumpets—  Imagine Billie’s
trumpeter, the positive implicit in a mute.

The Americas erased Gramps’ goodbye,

his mother’s wave like water
evaporating from a cup.  He turned

to farming:  Land
blank like a score

unwritten.  Boundaries became helpful:
fences kept cows close, coyotes out.

He painted his name on the barn.

Wilmot sees it now, plain as the agave
across the side-yard’s cock-eyed creek.

Twenty-three years the plant has grown.
It’s twelve feet tall.  Next week
it’ll bloom bigger than any flower he’s seen
and stand like a torch.  Days later
the breeze will sow petals.

Wilmot will remove the dead

succulent.  In every bird’s croon he will believe
in seed, as Whitman did, and look for

reincarnation under his boot-soles.
Posted 04/08/13
"When Billie Sings 'Strange Fruit'" first appeared in Redivider