Here is a strange and bitter crop
macabre scene of hanging black bodies,
ghosts roused by sultry lament
to hushed silence of offended pale faces
come to be entertained, not embarrassed.

Hers a voice that knew bitterness.
Long hours on the road,
entering only through back doors,
packing sandwiches in her purse
because she never knew
when restaurants would refuse service.

She sang through pain
of a wild and tragic life,
pain deadened by heroin and scotch.
But she never wanted to be a victim,
she just wanted to sing
like Louis played his trumpet.

Yet she dared to give voice
to haunting words
of a white Jewish communist
at the end of every show –
first civil rights protest song –
outing herself as subversive
in the eyes of the FBI.

She died young, before I was born,
yet still teaches of horrors
never encountered in American History class,
that strange and bitter crop
that still sprouts under policeman’s knee
and among skittles strewn
across convenience store parking lots.

Keep singing Ms. Holiday,
we still aren’t listening.


Note: The first line of this poem (italicized above) is the final line of the poem “Strange Fruit” by Abel Meeropol.

©2023 Kenneth W. Arthur