Were you ever lonely?
Did you tell people that songs weren’t
the same as a warm body, a soft mouth?
Did you know how to say no to young men
who cried outside your hotel rooms?
Did you listen to the songs they wrote,
tongues wet with praise for you?
What sweaty bars did you begin in?
Did you see them holding bottles by the neck,
hair on their arms rising as your notes hovered
above their heads?
Did you know of the girls who sang into their fists
mimicking your brilliance?
Did they know that you were only human?
My parents played your music at their wedding.
Called you Makeba, never Miriam, never first name,
always singer. Never wife, daughter, mother,
never lover, aching.
Did you tell people that songs weren’t the same
as a warm body or a soft mouth? Miriam,
I’ve heard people using your songs as prayer,
begging god in falsetto. You were a city
exiled from skin, your mouth a burning church.
Teaching my mother how to give birth.