Jillian Christmas

Just how some folks play the blues


“There’s just some thing about the wide-mouthed women!”

I say, bashful over details of my latest adventures,

down the front of slim trousers and up the back of summer skirts.

My lover is coolly unsurprised; it’s all common tongue

for the young ones like us

who shake out our sexuality like boas shedding feathers up and down Commercial Drive.


But back in Harlem, when the blues were all there was

between a big, black, bull-dyke and a wooden box,

wandering hands in restricted places landed some of the greatest voices of the day

behind bars barely thick enough to hold any of their wailing.


When Mother of the Blues, Ma Rainey, got herself jailed

for hosting an orgy with her chorus girls,

Bessie Smith bailed her out.

Even now there are stories that it was Ma who first inspired Bessie to howl

“It’s dirty … But good!”


Two BLACK renaissance women, friends,

singing about the thing that would have them jailed again and again.

Both of them, with their men,

it didn’t mater, they couldn’t keep that song off of their lips.


The first time a woman kissed me,

I heard the music.


I was terrified that the moment she pulled away

my tongue would erupt into a clanking of pots and pans

right where the horn section was supposed to kick in;

exposing just how many lifetimes I’d been keeping my breath tucked

in the heels of my boots,

waiting for permission to sing.


When she asked me with saxophone tongue if I’d ever kissed a woman,

I wanted to be just as smooth and twice as brave,

toss back my head and laugh the names of deities who had danced across my lips.


I didn’t want my mouth to quiver and crack

into a pile of pleading at her feet.


I didn’t want my hand to tap out an S.O.S.

as I reeled it back from the steady blade of her jaw.


I hope that my arms didn’t flap like mad,

untethered sails as she dropped me back into my seat.


In that moment, I wanted to be the even anchor of some

bad-ass, blues-fire bass line.

I wanted to BOOM-BAP-strut my way back into my whiskey throne,

with the ghost of Ma Rainey riding my tail-bone,

and Bessie Smith lyrics

burned across the lids of my freshly opened eyes.

Jillian Christmas serves as Artistic Director of Versəs Festival of Words. She has won Grand Poetry-Slam Championship titles at both the Vancouver BedRocc poetry-slam (2011), as well as the Vancouver Poetry Slam (2012, 2014), and has represented Vancouver at the Women of the World Poetry Slam for the past two years. An enthusiastic organizer within the Canadian poetry community, Jillian has participated in, developed and executed programs in partnership with Toronto Poetry Project, Wordplay, Brendan McLeod’s Travelling Slam and the CULTCH Mentorship, and facilitated spoken word workshops for youth and adults across the country.

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