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Exit, Song

No one sang it like her.

When she spoke to the river, that river had to speak back
what choice did it have?

The Rev. Al Green, Billie, Ella, Stevie, Dinah.
Aretha.
In a country that elected a racist and a fascist,
puppet of Putin, these names are the mysterious
unifiers. Count out the pathetic group so recently
disbanded, beautifully outnumbered, at the White House,
count out the (supposed) president himself,
and who among us does not love these strange geniuses as family?

Aretha’s voice is recall, pain, heartbreak, faith in a God so gorgeous
any atheist turns pious in its presence. Sex, too, of course: the memory
of it, the euphoric falling
and the flatline miserable heart
break of departure.
We all have, I suspect, experiences that would not be the same in memory
without her. For me, it was riding for weeks on a motorbike through the Cyclades with my first Great Love.
More recently, her caress and comprehension while bent over in griefpain when my
(ex)husband walked out the door. Never will I listen to I Wonder” the same way –

I am not a patriot. My spirit is in France, my body will follow.
But it is this country, its root-twisted history of kidnap
torture, forced labor, economy built on the casting-out
and the caging of countless thousands, intermixed
with a God both real and convenient
and that odd characteristic
other countries look at with both contempt and envy:
Optimism.

Her voice was the embodiment of our history:
the history of her people and a preternatural
refusal to hate the deep shadows that brought
this country up from its infancy.

I love Billie because she is broken and still perfect.
But Aretha.
She is Grand like Ella, all lung and rasp like Dinah;
she is the party on Saturday night
and the church filled with family the next morning.
Unlike The Rev. Green, she presents no tension between the two:
she held the whole.

And weren’t we lucky to hold it with her?

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