Notes from a small island
A weblog by Jonathan Ali

Thursday, May 01, 2003  

And then there was Nina

The Editor:
(For Alston West and Cabral)

I was raised on the smooth
black velvet of Nat King Cole
Brook's cool, Satchmo's smile.
Sarah's swoon was the pulse
of my blood, Dinah's swing.
I come from a town by the sea
to the south of an island. There
I was raised among minstrels
with rum, roast pork and guitar
scatting to the Mills Brothers: I
know them like I know calypso.

We of the Cherokee sister-boys
and high collar chambray shirts
who leaned in a crawl behind
dark shades, patting into place
an errant strand of a proud flat-
lit candles on every sidewalk
for Otis, kept vigil from Sando
to Belmont, played every song
from his husky soul, deep and
sad into the night, or till
some neighbour called out
For silence or the police,
you could never imagine.

How we the truly cool dug
Cannonball: Mercy Mercy Me
or Miles into the blue night
reclined on a barber's chair,
lips red with cheap wine, head
nice like the curl of a cigarette's
slow burn: West, barber by day,
jazz god come Saturday night,
grilling we lesser initiates: Who's
on drums, bass, piano? Listen!

On that faraway night, we
dug Nina most of all, we did,
Nina from a different place.
And Elsa Francis, fresh out
of Naparima Girls, took scissors
to her straightened hair, cut it
low to the scalp, declared herself
nobody's Negro, but a Soul Sister.
You wouldn't know this.

There was never anyone quite like Nina, keeper
of the flame, profile in pride
voice of a struggle, defiant.
No one sang against the tide
- Young, Gifted and Black -
quite like her, Afro urban ghetto
princess of the Dahomey,
moaning against the assassins
and agents of death,
in your face, defiant,
singing of a new order,
new day come and gone.

Oh! O Baltimore, ain't it
hard just to live, just to live.

- Dawad Phillip, via e-mail in today's Express

posted by Jonathan | 8:16 AM 0 comments


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