Tain’t Nobody’s Bizness
Bessie Smith’s voice crackles on a scratchy tape:
God’s trombones rolling, trumpets blowing, golden fire.
I’m thirteen. A silent house deep in the woods,
New Hampshire. This Bessie might be nearly thirty, singing,
wrapping her voice into an adulthood I’ve never
imagined, ancient, I think even when she started
singing, and dead already thirty years. The recording’s
close to fifty years old, from a box in an attic. A white
piano-player. Somebody’s uncle. Traveled. Reel-to-reel tape.
I knew a few of the songs, newer than this tape,
titilating, ‘Hurry on down to my house baby,’ comic,
‘Your feet’s too big.’ I’ve never seen a black person.
I’m babysitting, but the kids are asleep. ‘Ain’t nobody home
but me.’ That boy might come to knock on the door again tonight.
Might. I never let him in. But now I’m playing Bessie—
deeper, scarier, spine-thrilling in the deep night,
in the dark and whispering woods. Sugar in her bowl,
hot dog in her roll. Then oh too much. Too much.
Too much to stay alone. Some hot dog. Between. My roll.
© 2020 Kelley Jean White