A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature
She was arrested for narcotics possession in 1947 and made to serve time in jail. After her release, she sold out a show at Carnegie Hall. Still, she could not make a clean break from heroin and the police forces trying to punish her for it. As she lay dying in her hospital bed from liver cirrhosis in 1959, she was handcuffed and arrested for drug possession.
—The Writer’s Almanac, April 7, 2017
Hateful America, I wore your uniform
five years after Lady Day died in handcuffs–
Genteel racist, I was born to conform.
Discharged in 66 I wore my airborne
cap home, saluted my grandfather as if
he should have been proud of me in that uniform.
Billie said, “If I’m going to sing like someone
else, then I don’t need to sing at all.” Let’s
just say I was white and knew how to conform.
I didn’t hear “Strange Fruit” until she’d been
long dead. By then even Ali’d gotten his
notice and had to wear that hateful uniform.
He said, “I ain’t got no quarrel with them
Viet Cong,” but they took him anyway, and Elvis,
too–they made them stand up straight and conform
just enough to stay out of jail. My shame
is some of who I am–I’ve got my campaign
badge, my honorable discharge–but just minutes
ago I learned her real name was Eleanora Fagan.
Copyright 2020 David Huddle
David Huddle’s ninth poetry collection, My Surly Heart, was published by LSU Press in 2019.