Ciona D. Rouse is a poet, living in Nashville. She curates many poetry readings in the city, including the monthly Writings on the Wall at Atmalogy and Lyrical Brew reading series at Barnes & Noble at Vanderbilt. She is the author of Like Breath & Water: Praying With Africa.
the cotton museum curator applauds blackface for paving the way for michael jackson
(memphis, tenn., 2011)
by Ciona Rouse
Praises for cotton
for fields too long for delicate Madonna lily feet
for buds that pricked precious white fingers. for blood.
for finding ways to not spill any wealthy white blood
Praises for the middle passage
for vessels of black bodies packed
shackled and stacked—cargo bound for new
land, lying in everything black bodies tried to excrete
Praises for slavery
for the price of black hands, the cursed black skin
for mothers sold and separated from black babies
for lovers divided, black lips, aborted kisses
For the field negro
oppressed so hard, how did he stand?
for hollers, for call and response, for whips and wails,
blood singing through cracks on backs
Praises for forced Jesus
for Israel in Egypt land
for stuttering Moses and the hollowed Red Sea
for the tales that made people believe they could fly and sing
and sing themselves to freedom
Praises for the blues
for the heartbeat’s walking bass
how loud it pounds when black eyes behold
fallen black bodies,
the bass, the bass, the base of the blues
Praises for blackface
for nigger makeup
for burnt cork, bucked teeth
for a bit of shuck, a little jive
for big lips on blackened faces
belly laughs from white lips
Praises for ragtime
for jazz. Praises for swing-
ing in branches of Poplar trees
for Emmit Till’s open casket:
the deep blue note across America
for white eyes finally seeing his
broken black face
Praises colored minstrel tune.
Praises Zip Coon.
Praises Jezebel, too.
Praises Jump Jim Crow.
Thank you, plantation talk.
Thank you, cakewalk.