Tyehimba Jess

Issue #
February 18, 2013

Sissieretta Jones, Carnegie Hall, 1902: "O patria mia."

Aida, buried in the darkness

of her fate. Aida, singing

in the tomb of her lover.

Her lover a notion pale as

the aria circling from her mouth.

Aida, lowered into the pit

cloaked in breath’s ocean.

Aida, a war inside her voice.

A battle of tongues sung doloroso,

the husk of shadow on air.

With the soar of her father’s

sermon for truth. With the burn

of nigger heaven. With the hum

of oceans wrapped in bone.

With the legacy of bones

wrapped in ocean. With a national

healing hogtied to song.

Let me hum it to you sweet

with vivace; let me scrape it into

our history. Let my voice turn

its scarred back on you. Let my skin

disappear to cover you whole.

Let my molten song be

your blessing of ash.

Let the ash cover all

our faces. Let ash be

the secret that masters

itself. Let the curtain rise

upon the hidden face.

Let the spotlight burn

to purify need. Nail down

the lockbox of spirituals

inside my throat. Bury

them with opera’s echo

of grandeur. Resurrect the holy

grind of tremolo and tradition.

Let the key be infinite.

Let the coon song scatter.

Let each mouth be envy.

Let bloodlines be muddied.

I stand solo in this country

of concert. I am multitudes

of broken chains. I am Aida

with war on her lips.

I am Aida against drowning

in all that summons her alive.

I bear the crescendo

of ocean inside me.I carry its bones inside

my attack. I am a wave

reaching beyond this shore.

Let this belting be our

unbinding. Let o bring

the sound of all our wanting.

Let patria speak the names

of all my fathers.

Let the curtain rise

to show the face that is

known. Let the country

be mine. Let the country

be mine. Let this country

be mine.

Sissieretta Jones (1868-1933) was the first African American soprano to sing at Carnegie Hall.

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