National Poetry Month Day 16: Harmony Holiday

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Hard Time Killing Floor Blues 

Nina Simone, red balloon ribboned in her palm like a parachute latch or tourniquet to keep the ache back, marches behind the guard with such obedience  it  flails  and catches  rage. When they reach Angela Davis’ prison cell   a  garden in hell      an ardent green almost aggressive serenity readies for them,   their whole radius of the womens’ prison is cheering favor and this echos, sounds  like screams   and this echoes  sounds  like  screams   and this   echoes   sounds   like  screams   and this echoes sound like—     nevermind   the   endless  drawing  of curtains the sun   invents   between  bars    the  steel smelling  rubber  and cheer barging  through  a grim   howdoyoudo riddled into balloon dowry     how we weep together about the commissary where all we see are Newports and wafers, save me, commission me    a plate of dried goods with a microwave fever, sweating meat and limp lemons to share   as  we gaze at one another back and forth       bloodied ballooning eyes dazzling and stabbing the silence which chews  us      gnaws     choose  me!       choose   me.     How do you do   it     tuck an inflated wound into   confinement  as  bloom        how  do    you   switch   with   the  inanimate   this   afternoon   to   escape  as a baby’s  first  cry leaves  some   vaulted  erasure   she   called    safety   or  becoming       and we whisper about the love letters  George Jackson has  been sending   and Nina  sings an acapella   Plain  Gold Ring      and the balloon lives in the cell with her to wither and drift until the acquittal     and by then George Jackson has been killed and the cheers will have echoed so long they taunt      pleasure itself will be a joke by then  and she pressed the flat tepid red against her cheek   like  heart blood to test the texture   of  oppression   on    affection          sorrow so reticent it’s like rest, like laziness almost  languid impossibly receptive love      holding  hands  through   the bars   and  graveyards    wet letters      horrific  cheers   pressed  into  the  spirit  that  they  may   float   up      apathetic correctional  facility  freedom    song  pawing  at  the muzzled  sky

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Photograph of Harmony Holiday by Harmony Holiday.


Harmony Holiday is a writer, dancer, and the author of five collections of poetry including the forthcoming Maafa (May 2020). She also curates an archive of jazz and griot poetics and a related performance series. She has received the Motherwell Prize from Fence Books, a Ruth Lilly Fellowship, a NYFA fellowship, and a Schomburg Fellowship. She’s currently working on a play commissioned for LA’s 2020 biennial, and a collection of essays entitled Love Is War for Miles in addition to other writing, film, and curatorial projects. More from this author →