Nina Diana and me

I walk to a book launch
in Leicester Square
it’s in a dive of a club
or maybe a bar
which could be right
or wrong
for Nina Simone
I like Leicester Square
it was once
almost a garden
the mild afternoon
becomes it
there’s a red carpet
across the pavement
temporary barriers
a number of policemen
doing their crowd-control stuff
it needs controlling
and so do the snappers
with their aluminium
camera cases
their folding steps
their gofers
their very presence
then there’re the fans
there are lots here
clearly excited
it’s easy to tell
I’m so surprised
but knocked-out for Nina
I didn’t expect
this kind of a splash
did her publishers?
did she?
and then at last
and slowly
I finally see
all this hoopla surrounds
the cinema next door
not her jazzy dive
and it’s here I overhear
that somebody
more glorious
and glamorous it’s claimed
than even Nina
is due in these parts
well whadyaknow?
it’s Diana Windsor
the Queen of Hearts
off to the flicks
on her own
apart for a maid or two
and a minder or three
so no bother for me
to dive underground
where La Simone is bound
so here I am
ah where it’s at
for once in my life:
ringed by snappers
public relations people
journos from Melody Maker
New Music Express 
and the other sheets
one or two faces
even vaguely familiar
all dancing attendance
to no music at all
with Nina at a table
beneath the arcs
pen at the ready
as we queue for her
to make her mark
on our glossy copies
she is small very black
she looks up at me
not warm not cold
not quite here I feel
and neither am I alack
she doesn’t ask my name
so she can dedicate
on the flyleaf
she writes only her own
our eyes never meet

this happens years ago
even earlier than then
I thought Nina Simone 
must surely be French
though she sang
My baby just cares for me
in pure American
with cool flourish
and jazzy piano
then I read her book
looked at her signed name
again and again
a late developer as ever
I realised I’d never
properly listened
to her heart
her commitment
her passion
then something happened:
she’s a black American heroine
as good as anybody
who’s ever been
she’s the truly regal one
I came lately to see:
that’s all there is to say
of Nina Diana and me


Jeff Cloves
Illustration: Claire Palmer

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