The American Muse
Whatever happened to the American Muse?
The Diva whose voice leads us through the labyrinth.
Back in the twenties with the birth of the blues
came Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey peeling away
the shell that smothers the feelings of the nation.
They begat Billie Holiday who led us into the racial darkness.
And she and Lena Horne begat Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughn,
Dinah Washington and Della Reese who brought joy into blues
and lit dark tunnels leading closer to the Minotaur.
And they begat the white divas of the big bands
Rosemary Clooney, and Peggy Lee and they brought forth
Judy Garland who sang from the molecules of a healing wound.
And then came the gospel-soul singers Mahalia Jackson and Aretha Franklin
Adding the passion of prayer, the calling forth of the god.
And then came TV and muses appeared to everyone
And From Mahalia and Aretha and Judy came forth Barbara Streisand
who could sing in octaves never heard before.
And then came the sweet calm voice of Joan Baez
bringing serene thoughtfulness in a time of war.
And Joan before the music died begat Janis Joplin roaring
-appearing from blues time long forgotten
a brief flame - muse of the hippie fire.
Then as the muse becomes lost in the labyrinth of mass culture
America begins its decline and the empire is born.
Whitney Houston brings gospel, soul and blues
together with the new public sexuality
and at the same moment rose Madonna
the material girl stripping all pretense from teenage sex.
And Whitney and Madonna begat Mariah Carey
and the voices get higher and louder
screaming out onto the streets and prairies,
and the clothes begin to disappear
shining with sequins and diamonds, flimsy with lace.
And Mariah Carey begets Brittany Spears and
Christina Aguilar and Jennifer Lopez and Star Search
And suddenly rising from the underworld
calling forth the bourgeoisie hypnotized by media
comes Celine Dion flying across stages in Las Vegas
in costumes clinging to invisible curves.
From all over America everyman and every woman
and their children mount their trucks and SUVS
with rifles on their windows and hand guns
and condoms in glove compartments
drawn to the newest muse singing
songs of love and longing
so high and shrill no word can be heard
shouts of a daemonic empire ripping
across an unsuspecting world,
slipping out into the silence of the universe
frightening whatever beings might be awaiting
our call their ears now astounded and deafened.
Where is the American Muse?
We are lost in the labyrinth.
The Minotaur comes ever closer
and we search for the healing voice.
© Allen Cohen All rights reserved.
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