Mississippi, 1935


A crossroads after sundown, and a man

with fingers calloused at the tips; not rough

share-cropper’s labor but some darker art

has left his palms un-creased, his fingers hard

as stone. He aches to play what he cannot.


A stranger by the roadside gives him pause.

A music sweeter, sadder, filled with all

the bitter wounds of earth; the knowledge of

the fall. The strings are throbbing with the loss.

How much for the guitar?

                                          That’s not for sale.


Memphis, 1998


The lighter the string gauge, the easier

it breaks. The heavies are your favorite.

A Stratocaster screams in sixteenth notes.

What Delta bluesman ever dreamed in punk?

The loudest ones, the fastest ones, the ones

with all the fans will get the record deal.


Your father’s Gibson pawned. Your rent unpaid.

White powder underneath your bloodied knuckles;

fist straight through the wall. The plaster crumbled

like sugar. Lately, your son is clingy.

Your wife dyes her hair again and again

but nothing brightens her, or your marriage.


Sunrise touches the dust. The truth begins

to dawn on you; a moan escapes your throat.

And now you play the song you longed to master;

how easily you bend and twist the notes.

Oh my soul, my soul is gone…


Memphis 2004


Twelve heavy steps each day you take from grave

and back to life; each day you pilgrim travel

for your prize. Your sinewed arms are battle

scarred. Your shoulders are unbreakable. The

soul he lost to history: a poster

on your wall. And you wrestle the fiend.


He has three tombstones: two in the Delta,

one in Hazlehurst. To die so often

with so little sense of closure; gates of Hell

awaited him. Fretboard now untouched.


And did it scream? And did it moan and wail,

in language never heard before on earth?

His fingers pulled the notes from deep within.

The secret ones no man had ever played,

no woman either.

                                       You better come on

in my kitchen, baby don’t you want to go?


A razor blade, the simplest tool of all.

So elegant, compact upon your table.

Row on row of promise, rows of powder:

make the music faster, make it louder.