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Sissieretta Jones

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Ad libitum

I sing this body ad libitum, Europe scraped raw between my teeth until, presto, “Ave Maria” floats to the surface from a Tituba 
tributary of “Swanee.” Until I’m a legato darkling whole note, my voice shimmering up from the Atlantic’s hold; until I’m a coda of sail song whipped in salted wind; until my chorus swells like a lynched tongue; until the nocturnes boiling beneath the roof of my mouth extinguish each burning cross. I sing this life in testimony to tempo rubato, to time stolen body by body by body by body from one passage to another; I sing tremolo to the opus of loss. I sing this story staccato and stretto, a fugue of blackface and blued-up arias. 
I sing with one hand smoldering in the steely canon, the other lento, slow, languorous: lingered in the fields of “Babylon’s Falling” ... 
 

Notes:

Sissieretta Jones was the first African-American opera singer to perform at Carnegie Hall.

Source: Poetry (February 2016)

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This poem originally appeared in the February 2016 issue of Poetry magazine

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Sissieretta Jones

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