JOHN L. STANIZZI

DON’T THREATEN ME WITH LOVE

– I never hurt nobody but myself and that’s nobody’s business but my own.

                                                                            -Billie Holiday

Pres named you Lady Day, Eleanora,

an improvisational genius

singing of the turbulences of youth,

or what it’s like behind bars, or even

about what a little moonlight can do.

*

April 7, 1915, Philly— 

—one of many birthdays for you, Billie—

Clarence was 15 and Sadie 13.

One day Clarence and Sadie threw you out,

pregnant, Sandtown-Winchester at your back.

*

Soon enough, Daddy left with his banjo,

and hit the road with Fletcher Henderson.

Needing to be born again you went south

to the Millers, in-laws in Baltimore;

on the road with no mama, no daddy.

*

You managed to get through kindergarten

but not much further.  And one Christmas Eve 

when you were only eleven years old—

—imagine a little girl so alone—

you got caught having sex with a grown man.

*

He was sentenced to jail and you were sent

to the Good Shepherd Home for Colored Girls.

Did you dream you’d end up in a brothel,

or if, when you managed to sleep, you’d be

dreaming all was fine, and you a Lady.

*

Pres named you Lady Day, Eleanora,

—one of many birthdays for you, Billie— 

Needing to be born again you went south—

—imagine a little girl so alone— 

dreaming all was fine, and you a Lady.

A FRACTURED HISTORY OF STRANGE FRUIT

Here is a fruit for the crow to pluck

For the rain to wither, for the wind to suck

For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop

Here is a strange and bitter crop.

-from Strange Fruit

-Abel Meeropol, 1937

We killed the spies; no one said “delicate” strange fruit?

I’m sad about the children, exquisite strange fruit.

It was a photo that haunted Abel for days.

Abel Meeropol held by pestilent strange fruit.

Abel graduated in 1921— 

Dewitt Clinton in the Bronx—germinate strange fruit.

Other big stars—Burt Lancaster, Neil Simon.

Quite the high school!  Ralph Lauren; elegant strange fruit.

The photo was of black men hanging dead from trees.

For this young communist, no room for rank strange fruit.

Abel stayed to teach English at Dewitt Clinton,

but racism slew him; he caught its scent—strange fruit.

Though his brain had turned to iron, he could still write

a poem—do not underestimate strange fruit.

When the poem was done he set it to music; 

and a bar owner dug the malignant strange fruit.

The club owner played it for Billie, who loved it;

memories of her Pop’s death, a poignant strange fruit.

He suffered from a fatal lung disease, and died,

the hospital closed to blacks, repellant strange fruit.

Billie disliked performing it; it was too sad,

but she did; racism lives on—rodent strange fruit

The club-goers were made up of mostly white folks

who clapped ‘til their hands hurt, at this pendant strange fruit.

Others hated it and walked out the door on her;

they refused to stand for this repellant strange fruit.

But what a mystical sight—March of ’39.

West 4th’s Cafe Society—silent strange fruit.

Waiters ordered to stop serving, the lights blacked out;

one spotlight on Billie’s face, inspirit strange fruit.

She was just 23 when she stepped to the mic,

Blood on the leaves, blood on the root—pungent strange fruit.

Black body swinging; Southern breeze and bitter crop;

when she was done, her light went out, expunged strange fruit.

Patrons stood in black dark, wondering what happened.

The lights came up; Billie was gone—lucent strange fruit.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SPECIAL SALE AT OCEAN STATE JOB LOT

And miles to go before I sleep,   

And miles to go before I sleep.

-Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening

-Robert Frost

You can get fire pits; relax before you sleep.

You can get shock; pool cleaning acts before you sleep.

Pavilions, private blend coffee, and pool covers,

tents to set up, and Coleman lamps before you sleep.

Buy bleach for your Covid, inject it and be cured.

Hydroxychloroquine?  Check shelves before you sleep.

But a cashier who recites Frost to perfection?

It’s not that you see her teeth, black before you sleep.

It’s not that you see her eyes, off and rather sad.

It’s her reciting of Frost, trance before you sleep.

You’ll find Paula at a register, wild black hair,

eyes a tad off, but Frost she’ll speak before you sleep.

I remember when she said, “Are you a teacher?”

“Yes.  Poetry.”  Eyes bright, she talked “…before you sleep.”

She said, full of joy, “I love poetry the best!”

She spoke Stopping By The Woods.  Dance before you sleep!

Flawlessly, word for word, she said the whole poem.

John, call for a sale!  Poems for grabs before you sleep!

Picture

IMAGINARY SUNDAY EXCURSION

The sun is always shining, we have oxygen, trees, 

birds. There’s so much good things on earth, still.  

We haven’t destroyed everything.

` -Ziggy Marley

just beyond that thin cape the lake opens up

the wind is freed

the water becomes choppy

local legend tells us

there are old cars at the bottom 

resting rusting in the deepest parts

fish swim in and around 

the old junks

imagining starting one 

and driving it out of the lake

taking the back roads 

to the sea

freedom there would be magnified 

ten-thousand fold

they could drive down leagues

mesmerized by forests and mountains

the likes of which

they could never begin to envision

of course if the world in which we lived

were actually as soft as Churchill

has rendered his painting

perhaps the fish wouldn’t crave the open sea

maybe they’d just drive

those old clunkers out of the lake

and speed along the country roads

learning the sweetness of oxygen

and opening up those old jalopies

to see what they could really do

EVERYWHERE IS WAR

That until the philosophy which holds one race superior and 

another inferior is finally and permanently discredited and 

abandoned: That until there are no longer first-class and 

second class citizens of any nation; That until the color 

of a man’s skin is of no more significance than the color 

of his eyes…

-Haile Selassie

-United Nations General Assembly NYC – -October 4, 1963 

“you’re never more alive than when you’re almost dead.”

–Tim O’Brien, The Things They Carried

When the first bug of spring

kamikazed into my beard

and the sweat-forest 

of yard work and hangover

brought to mind

(curiously)

images of the war.

I plucked the bug out

released it to the warming wind

and smiled at my embarrassment, tantrums, regrets

while just offshore

weapon-erections threatened.

There can’t be much time left

for the soldiers hiding in the shade,

the man and the woman on a blanket in the park,

the infant dazzled by the sound of its rattle.

(There has never been much time.)

I want to scream

the lilies are blooming

there’s a red-winged blackbird on every branch

and you cannot torture me enough to stop me loving you.

Even though most of the bodies are babies

and you’ll have to hose them down,

even though the wars that fume

have always raged,

and even though when we flay each other

it’s always over the same thing,

even in the face of all that,

still the elders come

backpacks strapped on and full of seeds

as resilient as the skunk cabbage

creaking silently up through the hoarfrost,

the dark cold crowd

shoulder to shoulder and not moving,

thick steam rising,

hot mist getting ready to stifle the air

and yet

some of us embrace the futility 

emerging in the wetlands.

We exchange exhalations,

fill each other with our personal cosmos

so that when the sky rains metal and poison

some of us will chant what we know

as we burst into flames whose snarl

will sound so much like a hymn

that the last thing to burn

will be our hearts

our joyous singing hearts. 

John L. Stanizzi, Author – Ecstasy Among Ghosts, Sleepwalking, Dance Against the Wall, After the Bell, Hallelujah Time!, High Tide – Ebb Tide, Four Bits, Chants, Sundowning, POND, The Tree That Lights the Way Home. Besides Ovunque Siamo, John’s poems are in Prairie Schooner, Cortland Review, American Life in Poetry, and his nonfiction in Impspired,Plainsong, and many others. He was awarded a Fellowship in Creative Non-Fiction, 2021 from the Connecticut Office of the Arts. https://www.johnlstanizzi.com