(I'm Blue) the Gong Song, or, America the Beautiful

Ashley M. Jones

Ike Turner sailed the ocean blue in nineteen hundred sixty-two.

Brown baby boy with a guitar for a ship—the treble clef shining black as a sail. King and Queen of Spain, King and Queen of the American Songbook. Ike, make like a sailor and break the waves of water, waves of sound.

On the horizon, amber waves of Anna Mae. The plump promise of fruit in her dark Tennessee body. Nutbush woman, wild with the blues, Ike dreams of you feverishly. That big, wailing mouth. Those legs—shotguns waiting to be loaded up with bullet beats. Those legs, brown staffs of pleasure—Ike imagines the way they would feel in his hands, the click of a calf, the smooth, ample ankle. United States of Anna Mae. Ike pledges to you. Anthems scratched out for your voice to ride on. Once conquered, America is much softer than it looks from far away. Easier to press a thumb, a fist, into.

This land is fertile with the funk.

New places and new people and shows to play every night. The natives love to dance, and Ike, you let them—you strap them up in stilettos and wrap them in glittering fringe. They don native wigs and growl, natively into the microphone. Some of them give you white powder for your nerves. The ones with powder are harder to trap. You exchange your money for their powder. Rivers of light sucked in through your conquering nose.

Conquistador, for better or for worse.

The conquering is never really done, is it? Natives, America, Anna Mae—all that voyaging fruit needs taming. What good is an explorer if he doesn’t keep his discoveries down? Iron or flesh, doesn’t matter, a fist is a fist and a fist is power. Ike Turner gave you a name, America. It alliterated and it sold them records, baby. Tina Turner, baby. He found you, baby. He made you live.

When he speaks, you will listen:

I brought you in this world and I can take you out. Bit by glistening bit. You would have gotten hit with something, anyway—smallpox would have made it over the ocean without me. I built your immunity, baby. Thank me for your scars. Doesn’t matter what you call me, I made you sing. From my mouth comes gold.

Tell me you can hear a jukebox playing “Proud Mary” without something buckling in your highbrow hips. Tell me something doesn’t stir you to gyrate to “The Gong Gong Song.” I’m ringing your bell, baby, I’m making you dance. If you’re proud to be an American you’re proud to be part of me. Your flags are made of my whole notes and dirty moans. I took you from the Nutbush jungle to this skyscraper of a thing. You ain’t got to love me, baby, but you better know who I am.