When I ask the class if they know Billie Holiday,
a few raise their hands, while others squint
at her name scrawled across the board,
though trying to solve a math problem.
I pull up a Youtube video—
Billie black and white on TV,
sleek in a silk dress,
doing a slow sway on stage,
her voice not yet heroin-burned,
her eyes not yet blood drop red.
Where’s the beats? a student asks,
hearing bursts of trumpet and sax.
Where’s her dancers? another questions,
eyeing her backup band, motionless on stage,
except for their frantic finger motions
hitting notes on brass.
A full verse in, they hush,
until Lady Day’s final note—
God bless the child who’s got his own, got his own,
her face pained, pulled back until release.
Now they know what Langston meant
in “Song to Billie” by a muted trumpet,
a sorrow dusted with despair.
~ ~ ~
Brian Fanelli is the author of two poetry books, Front Man and All That Remains. His poetry, essays, and book reviews have been published by The Los Angeles Times, World Literature Today, Blue Collar Review, Paterson Literary Review, Main Street Rag, and other publications. His poetry has been twice nominated for the Pushcart Prize, and it has been a finalist for the Allen Ginsberg Poetry Award and the Tillie Olsen Creative Writing Award. In addition, Brian is a contributing editor to Poets’ Quarterly. Currently, he lives in Pennsylvania and teaches at Lackawanna College.