“Strange Fruit / Billie Holiday”

by Judith Vaughn

June 4th, 1959, I turn thirteen        Life is a harsh reality.
July 17th, 1959, Billie Holliday dies Life was a harsh reality.
She is unknown to me.

At twenty-one, awakening from the darkness of my own life,
I hear Billie Holiday on the radio, singing
like a bird, flying into the stratosphere.
I ride those wings with lightened heart and smiling lips
into a darkness beyond mine. Who knew? Who knew?
Beauty shines even in the most painful times.

Years later, In New York, a friend tells me a woman
at a Harlem jazz club sings like Billie Holiday.
I don’t, I can’t, believe him.
Cold winds blow, snow flurries rush
across the front of our yellow cab to Harlem.

We walk down stairs,     another world. Sounds
waft up the stairs. A voice The channeled ghost
of Billie Holliday sings. The tremor of her voice,
the torment of her heart fills the smokey room;
The silence shatters from words sung of yesterday’s pain,
today’s anguish.

Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze.
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees,

gives voice to travesties burned, burned
into the collective memory of her people.

Sung words burn the flesh of the living,
leave charred souls to fly through history.
We sit at round tables, drinks in one hand,
cigarettes in the other; a smoky den of reverence.

Lady Day touches us beyond space beyond time:
a bird flying into the stratosphere.
Beauty shines even in the most painful of times.

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*Shelly’s Manne-Hole, 1967 or Thereabouts
Black Walnut
Judith Vaughn’s bio

Copyright 2020, Judith Vaughn, all rights reserved. No reproduction without prior permission.