(a sestina)

by Joe Okonkwo

Billie Holiday sang right to me last night.
Her voice floated to me on velvet breath,
Seared through the pops and crackles of her '30s records, this woman
Impressed herself onto my heart with a voice barely a whisper.
She made love to me, penetrated me with her song,
Told me her story, bled her soul and mine

with her moumful symphony: a land mine
Of blues in the Holiday night.
How simple, yet plaintive her songs.
Notice the tremble at the end of her breath.
Notice that the love songs the pain songs she whispers:
"Someday he'll come along.  The man I love." This woman

speaks for herself and all men and all women
Who want desperately to say the words "That man is mine"
But know that that prayer goes unheard like the softest whisper
That dissolves into the vacuum of a jazzless night.
(Notice the voice tremble at the end of her breath)
Listen to Billie Holiday sing.

Listen to the sweet twang of her singing.
Listen to her explode womanhood.
Listen to the surge in her blues-breath
As she declares: "This house, this song, this man: all mine!"
Listen as she torch-sings to the mocking knight
And "Hush now.  Don't explain," she whispers,

"You're my joy and my pain," she whispers.
She won't stop singing.
That's how she survives the bruising, lonely nights.
She's hungry: as a person and as a woman.
She needs to say: "This song is mine.  This man is mine.
This man won't leave." But she loses breath.

Her songs keep breathing.
Billie keeps whispering.
And Billie's Anguish, Billie's hopes are mine.
Billie Holiday will never stop singing.
She sings for love, for men, for women.
She sings for me and her songs keep rinsing through the sparse

Billie Holiday, breathe your song.
You the woman, the artist, hold not your whisper
And I'll hold not mine.  Together, we'll win the (k)night.

Holiday by Joe Okonkwo

© Copyright 2001. All rights reserved. No portion of this work may be duplicated or copied without the expressed written consent of the author.

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