I can’t pretend it was just like any other
summer day. We gathered early, after coffee,
for the morning plenary session that officially opened
the annual SAA conference. The Archivist of the U.S.
addressed the assemblage and promised to keep his oath
to the Constitution. A famous scholar from UNC
improved on her TED talk about the effects of algorithms
(an Arabic word that sneaks too often into our conversations),
algorithms that control all the social media they let us see.
I tweeted a photo of her to friends in Cairo and Ankara
and flashed back to my time in Damascus, promising
to share the Youtube video with them all soon.
Then my phone buzzed: a mournful incoming tweet
that announced Aretha’s passing.
(We knew you were sick, but the final words,
good bye, would never fit in our vocabularies.)
I tried to respond with a tweet but my phone’s
battery strength was too weak to pump it out.
Instead I pulled out my iPad and found a spot
in the hotel lobby where the wifi signal was strong.
All I could think to type, though, were the lyrics
to my favorite Franklin song: “Ain’t no way, ain’t
no way for me to love you, if you won’t let me.”
Later I posted to Facebook the Frank O’Hara poem,
“The Day Lady Died” because I knew my poetry friends
would be grieving. But the evening was still young
and I couldn’t just crash early on your transition day.
So I found that August Wilson passage that
set the scene in “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone”
about a song “worth singing, kicking in the chest…”
a song that was “both a wail and a whelp of joy.”
And I said a little prayer for you.