It’s Important I Remember That Nina Simone Wrote ‘Mississippi Goddam’ in Less Than One Hour—

Nina Simone singing with her eyes closed, wearing a pearl necklace
HABANS Patrice / Paris Match / Getty

and she meant every word.

At times the lyric is insistent, an immaculate conception,
which is to say, perhaps, that urgency is the one true God we answer to

                                           and God, truly, is the one thing we need urgently:

                  Medgar was dead from a bullet in the back.
                                                     Four little beauties in Birmingham.

The record was put to wax at Carnegie Hall in New York City,
a spotlight on the singer as round and hot as the sun
that oversaw a boy’s body bob up from the Tallahatchie.

                                                 In grief and despair,
it is the soul that is heavy and the bones that are weightless;

Ms. Simone bore her soul, birthed a song that was more than song,
laid the brunt of blackness on thin waves of air.

When Philips Records sent the single to radio stations across the nation,
some were returned with the vinyl broken cleanly in half;

              I’ve long wondered if that partition was premeditated,
                              hateful vandalism of the voice,

or if it was a moment of art imitating life so precisely
that the 45s themselves, sometime during transport,

                                                had become Nina’s heart.