I Was Taught: Don’t Disrespect Aretha

by Marlin M. Jenkins

with thanks to Brennar Goree

When she wail, your body betta

     wail. She belt out Swanee

Swanee you best buckle

   like a shoe, like spit-shine,

 like your body channeling

that swung 4/4 and the crooked

  waiting snuck into each annunciated

     letter. Make your back

  a horn, your wrist

       a bass spinning like a pirouette;

 make your body a Queen

         in Waiting, too. Aretha

    didn’t dump her soul out

      like cracked eggs in a skillet,

   like jambalaya from pot to bowl

 for you to have stiff

        knees, feet that can’t

     roll like a rocking chair

       with some stank

   in the nails holding the wood

 steady, though it cracks, makes

     noise seeping

  like nose-breath, like the inhale

    between waiting for me and

praying for me, or

    how I love you and

 how I love you—if Aretha

       even ever need to stop

to take a breath. Maybe you can’t

     do right by your mamma,

   how many calls away common ground

         might feel, like all the soil

       from here to Detroit dry

            and blowing away like dust—

   maybe you can’t do right by

          every lover you kept

     waiting, can’t do right

       by everyone who’s died

  without you telling them

    what’s real, whatever real is—

but you can learn to do

    what you can to do right

 by each verse, become smooth

       rumble and crumbed butter,

   background and backbone, sacrifice

      offering to and of yourself with her

  voice become each joint.


Marlin M. Jenkins was born and raised in Detroit and currently lives in Minnesota. The author of the poetry chapbook Capable Monsters (Bull City Press, 2020) and a graduate of University of Michigan’s MFA program, his work has found homes with Indiana Review, The Rumpus, Waxwing, and Kenyon Review Online, among others. You can find him online at marlinmjenkins.com.

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