Untitled (Can you hear me now)

By Rhyann Robinson

This is a period piece, but it also ebbs and flows through time. For the ancestors… 

Part 1:

I sat at a speakeasy bar 

with nothing but a gin and tonic and my black skin

My name — falls out of the announcer’s mouth like the slow blow of a saxophone 

I ascend the stage

Heels, clicking on the mahogany floors– I feel nothing but silent stares

I step to the mic, ready to sing until my bare soul fills every hand in the crowd 

I start, all loud and confident like

But all I get in return is confused glances and not so silent murmurs–

They couldn’t hear me 

I got on this stage and foolishly expected them to be able to hear me

Because for a moment– I forgot that my voice had been taken from me long ago

Part 2:

Tossed overboard, along with the rest of my predecessors’ bodies

It lie on the floor of the atlantic ocean, still attached to the vessel by a thick chain


Trapped– in the deep cyclonic rush of crashing water and shattered bones

Scraping against the jagged edges of cartilage and leftover hope 

My voice– their voice– was tarnished 

Part 3:

Once on the shores of “the land of the free” (a misnomer no doubt)

My voice was sold down the river

Still freshly drenched, it was hog tied and pulled through the mud of massa’s front lawn

Working– it was scorched by the sun

I can still taste the cotton in the wind

This– is what we were brought here for.

And every time my voice would try and sing a note

Every octave was whipped and lashed back into place

Scared and bruised


Part 4:

Once broken from chattel bondage–

my voice was shackled into a metal cage inferno

Beaten against the bars–

the only sounds that emerged

were those of the chains that linked one man to the next

And every time my voice would look up for salvation 

It only saw the strange fruits 

Part 5:

And you wonder– why do black people always sing like they been through some shit?

Because our voices were made from the sounds of the earth and still trampled 

Our sound became soaked in mud, holy water, and subjugation 

Our noise– was only acceptable three fifths of the time–

But if you sprinkle a little bit of ivory on it, then it becomes the world’s music

The rasp, and the struggle that lingers in ever black body is a not so subtle reminder 

That we have risen from the ocean and the earth–

Ascended to a place where we have turned mud into magic 

And jangling chains into joy

Now– every time we sing, 

we enter a big dance hall 

Where the air is so thick with triumph we can barely move 

Everyone– draped in different genres of beautiful 

Dancing– like the needle hitting the record at your favorite part of the song

Our bodies, coming unhinged at the waist and holding on to each other tight cause we get down!

Yeah, it’s that kind of night

And there–

Is Jim Crow, weeping in the back of the hall

Unable to breath once we let all of the anguish in our throats go free

In that moment

Every blood soaked note is replaced with one dripping in jazz and a little bit of liquor

Octaves, reaching so high they shatter the glass ceiling


Are the epitome of life, liberty, and the pursuit of equality 

We have the voice that moves mountains and fracture police barricades 

Because of the struggles of being shackled– with this voice

We create freedom

Forgetting where your voice comes from

Is the act of silencing yourself

So, I ask you this–

Can you hear me now?

Spread the word

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