Nina Simone


hands clatter -

musicians in the wings, cool cats           lapse hands, raising brows in the shade of a leopard-skin pill-box hat. One pristine African Export.                      Our Aunt Nina; stretches over ivory, casts black shadows with a pinned-up beehive. Zungo.She says, sings a song of chain gangs. Sings a song for six pence. Four and twenty -       Zungo. Washes out our ears with the force of a foreign sea; a sudden brace after a calm swell of Mozart. Guides these hands through peculiar inflections, our ears commandeered by one alien consonant, tagged onto and stapled to our alphabet. Reserved for the strange, for the remote –        words to remain in textbooks, signpost, post cards

one, Zebra – Zambia and final Zulu.  Zee or Zed – slices through the page with urgency, composed with definite angles                 one raw abrasion      defies the English S, to soften out and smoothen,


signify dignified Albion.    


Then, wilderness in ungo.Anchors this foreign sonic space. Draws us down into the undergrowth

through throaty vowel sounds stuffed into cardigan pockets to send us sinking. To repeat in an English air is to lose substance, an element or ingredient reserved to the native tongue’s underbelly that defies flight and fancy – forms thick lungs, springs sounds so low and earthy, tugs at the ball lodged in our throats, though only apparent in a case of crying when one moves to utter but splutters as words fail – ooze out as cackles     

                                                                                          as splinters    in a whine    in an unashamed sob.


Broken wails echo through Zungo,Nina’s spine arching over, under the twisted roots of a poplar tree. Whittles down a razor edge, bare bones, brittle skin – burrow in the brushwood, water rising through sodden mud, soft and malleable. Feel the roots, trace their limbs along the earth with an index finger that quakes in shame, quiver with every intake as Simone turns her teachings, to not know and not to feign knowing but to understand, first through Zungoand now through the heavy limbs of this fruit tree leaning, unloading. Fingers draw with swollen knuckles, the indents and affects from lashing, wallow in an abscess, weeps

      a thick red

like the rust on prison bars

       even trickles.

Blood falls from each and every leaf, claws through the sobbing earth as cordial in a clear glass. Nina shakes the tree trunk, tears roots from beneath us and waves them overhead, blossom turns in the air as waves on the sea front, sends foamy inches sprawling along pebble beaches, dresses our bones in deep seeded melancholy.


Ben Allen