Strange Fruit – Cyrus Cassells

The wailing of a clarinet,
And then the wounding voice
Of the woman with the fulgent
Gardenia in her hair
“Southern trees bear a strange fruit,
Blood on the leaves,
And blood at the root…”

How can I tell you?
As a boy,
I was frightened by Billie’s song,
The way a child is frightened,
Begins to fathom his own
Capacity for mourning,
Learning a grief
That is racial,
Cached in the soul
From generations of suffering
–Everything in our people
That is strangulated, stillborn,
Welling up
In a song,
In a child’s pure sadness
I came to identify
By its bitter taste
As “strange fruit.”
In school I heard about Emmett Till,
The boy who was lynched
For “eyeball rape.”
And then the strange fruit was given
A face, a body like my own—
Tonight I am listening
To what haunted me as a child:
Lady Day evoking
Fear’s murderous harvest, a boy’s body
Swinging from a tree,
And I’m dreaming the death of fear,
That one word, if we could grasp it,
Which might stop a child from becoming strange fruit.


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