An Encomium for Melvin Van Peebles' "Lilly Done the Zampoughi Everytime I Pulled Her Coattail"

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Vinyl Check '69 / An Encomium for Melvin Van Peebles' "Lilly Done the Zampoughi Everytime I Pulled Her Coattail"
by Nia I'man Smith

blue black woman
mouth a rounded story
when back is tight arched against wooden skyline
legs: spontaneous combustion of skin
singed muscle curved and lined
summoned under composed sheets of night
men call her name like it's their last memory of sound.

This is how I imagine you. Part Earl 'Snake Hips' swivel and satin. Part Sandra sequined and shakin'. The reasons why Nina and Screamin' Jay continued to cast ol' backwood swamp spells and women perfume all the quiet spaces of themselves-the backs of knees, behind earlobes, and the nape of one's neck with honey. The Zampoughi. As elusive as the true origins of your name, I have spent half a lifetime searching for you in crowded, damp red rooms. In between clunks of ice against plastic, the swallowing of fire, and the dizziness after, I have hoped that somehow, after years of patiently waiting and forever praying, one evening you would magically appear and answer the question that houses itself in the everyday of my thoughts: “How do you get somebody to love you?”

Cocksure in his stroke
He play God when he's straddled
Say: her dance was me

The bravado of a good fuck/ for a woman who loves to ball/ claim when he pull her coattail/ she come/ running/everytime/ oven or country style/ she likes it raunchy and wild/leave the money next to the Bible on the nightstand/ turn the lights off now/ he say: I make her sweat/ make her scratch and scream/ middle of the night/ 2 o'clock in the morning/ pouring down rain/got Lily dancing the Zampoughi only for me

Like the men before
He play God when he's straddled
Say: her dance was me

These are the men who will claim to have known you. In smoke-filled rooms of oak and whiskey, they will speak of you only in reference to themselves. They will talk of you in pieces:

“That girl always laughed when I...”
“Betchu' ain't never make her smile like I made her smile when I...”
“You know that gal loved it when I...”
They will talk of you as if laughter, smiling, and loving never graced your path until the night the two of you met. They will speak of you in the shards they collectively piece together to see the greatness of themselves. Time and time again, I've wanted to ask you the same question I've asked myself, “Why these men?”

You/me/we answer:

It's not
that I've loved them
more than I love myself
it's the burning desire
to be someone's

I ain't
made to be owned.
I am no quiet space
for men to hold their thoughts.
this dance
bawdy juke'd laughter and moons shined
ain't for the claiming of
nobody’s dreams
but mine.

On the nights I wish to be enveloped by more than the weight of a pillow or have skin, rather than sheets, whisper against bare legs, I comfort myself by remembering the true nature of you. It is one that cuts through tobacco fields to drive men like Melvin into a crescendo of howls and pleads. It is one that openly scoffs at the idea of having a last name other than your own and prefacing your first with Mrs. It is the type of power ordinary women secretly ache for. The power that comes with being able to answer Pecola's question, but never feeling compelled to ask it.

*Italicized lines taken from the Melvin Van Peebles song, “Lilly Done the Zampoughi Everytime I Pulled Her Coattail” from the classic 1969 album, Brer Soul.

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