they call me nina. i have sacrificed
my whole life for this name. in the back
rooms of the piano bars, they call me
a work horse—strong, but sometimes
willful. i'm no horse, but i'd be a killer
if i could. in tryon, they called me eunice.
it means good victory, a yoke too wide
for my shoulders to bear alone. so i
married young. i'm still not over it. nina,
they call me now. it means little girl,
as though i'd never known pain. believe
me, i have sacrificed my whole life
to sing my people's pain. on the street
corners, in the church bathrooms, they
use hoses and firebombs on us. i'm no dog,
but i'd bite back if i could. sometimes
i don't know how i'm still standing. i say
call me nina, but i know they hear negro.
it means black, a shade too dark to be
anything but beautiful. i must be beautiful.
when i sing, i sing to uplift. my people,
they've known heartache. in the backstage
lounges, in the silent halls, they say i'm
dangerous. believe me, i'll never be over it.

Meredith Nnoka is a recent Smith College graduate with a degree in Afro-American Studies and English. She currently lives in Nashville, Tennessee, where she works at a high school, writes poems, and takes French classes. Her fiction can be found in The Cadaverine.