Some folks will tell you the blues is a woman, Some type of supernatural creature. My mother would tell you, if she could, About her life with my father, A strange and sometimes cruel gentleman. She would tell you about the choices A young black woman faces. Is falling in with some man A deal with the devil In blue terms, the tongue we use When we don't want nuance To get in the way, When we need to talk straight. My mother chooses my father After choosing a man Who was, as we sing it, Of no account. This man made my father look good, That's how bad it was. He made my father seem like an island In the middle of a stormy sea, He made my father look like a rock. And is the blues the moment you realize You exist in a stacked deck, You look in a mirror at your young face, The face my sister carries, And you know it's the only leverage You've got. Does this create a hurt that whispers How you going to do? Is the blues the moment You shrug your shoulders And agree, a girl without money Is nothing, dust To be pushed around by any old breeze. Compared to this, My father seems, briefly, To be a fire escape. This is the way the blues works Its sorry wonders, Makes trouble look like A feather bed, Makes the wrong man's kisses A healing.
The trouble is, you can never take
that flower from Billie's hair.
She is always walking too fast
and try as we might,
there's no talking her into slowing.
Don't go down into that basement,
we'd like to scream. What will it take
to bargain her blues,
to retire that term when it comes
to her? But the grain and the cigarettes,
the narcs and the fancy-dressed boys,
the sediment in her throat.
That's the soil those petals spring from,
like a fist, if a fist could sing.