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Asking for a Heart Attack

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Asking for a Heart Attack by Patricia Smith

Aretha. Deep buter dipt, burnt pot liquor, twisted sugar cane,

Vaselined knock knees clacking extraordinary gospel.

hustling toward the promised land in 4/4 time, Aretha.

Greased and glowing awash in limelight, satisfied moan

'neath the spotlight, turning ample ass toward midnight,

she the it's-all-good goddess of warm cornbread

and bumped buttermilk, know jesus by his first name.

carried his gospel low and democratic in rollicking brownships,

sang His drooping corpse down from that ragged wooden T,

dressed Him up in something shiny, conked that Holy head of hair,

then Aretha rustled up bus fare and took the deity downtown.

They coaxed the DJ and slid electric until

the lights slammed on,

she taught Him dirty nicknames for His father's handiwork.

She was young then, thin and aching, her heartbox shut tight.

So Jesus blessed her, He opened her throat and taught her

to wail that way she do, she do wail that way don't she

do that wail the way she do wail that way, don't she?

Now every time 'retha unreel that screech, sang Delta

cut through hurting to glimpse been-done-wrong bone,

a born-again brother called the Holy Ghost creeps through that.

and that, for all you still lookin', is religion.

Dare you question her several shoulders, the soft stairsteps

of flesh leading to her shaking chins, the steel bones

of a corseted frock eating into bubbling sides,

zipper track etched into skin,




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