This story is paired with “Third Epoch, The Story Concluded by Walter Hartright” from The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins.
“Let the music speak to us of tonight, in a happier language than our own.”
Billie Holiday feels it
while gripping her microphone
unsteady, nerves pulsating through
her veins, instead of slurring words
she croons in the softest pitch,
Her audience melts, gasping
in this sirens reflections
with surprising breaths. Their standard
pitchfork epitaphs are stilled. Billie stakes
her claim. Calming these beasts
stirring rhythms. The crowd devours
the blues tradition she slithers,
forgetting her own addiction and pain,
while serenading songs of love, every night,
she hides softly inside these reflective refrains.
Outside the Cotton Club she is invisible,
but instead she smooths audiences
with her voice of beauty, adored
by all who hear her – their tongue-tied
nooses swinging colorblind for now.
Putting their hands together, clapping
feedback chimes, opening new ears
while Billie shares more boa, feathers—
in the longest nightclub dress, her hair
held-up, uncurling style, a spotlight of
shivers— exposing her roots.
And they embrace true tones of her every key
in rainbow chorus in this place, she rhymes
a new sound of sweetness she coolly
redefines. Lady Day stuns –
lighting the stage without matches –
glowing proudly in her smokiest flame.
When Billie croons she can almost feel
the gift of her audience’s embrace.
Bathed in applause of a lighter shade of love,
no longer caged—they can almost feel her wings;
on stage, this blackbird rising
in this roomful of doves.
Adrian Ernesto Cepeda is an L.A. Poet and graduate of the MFA Graduate program at Antioch University in Los Angeles where he lives with his wife and their cat Woody Gold. His poetry has been featured in The Yellow Chair Review, Thick With Conviction, Silver Birch Press and one of his poems was named Cultured Vultures’ Top 3 Poems of the Week.