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a literary journal published by the Black Earth Institute dedicated to re-forging the links between art and spirit, earth and society

Patricia Spears Jones

Furry Lewis—Memphis, 1969

I remember two Jewish guys from New York come to Memphis in search of

Furry Lewis. They walk about our Gothic campus asking students where

Does Lewis live.


We are like, who is Furry Lewis? And why are you asking us?

They were long haired, sweet tempered and determined and we helped them find

Furry Lewis    Hippie magic, we thought. They called him up and he said

Come over.


Furry Lewis lived in a neat bungalow with a wife, girlfriend, minder

Cautious, watchful—


—Who are these white folks and you girl with your

Afro hair? Who are you?


Furry was cool. He was used to visits from enthusiasts

New York or Tokyo, did not matter—he was Gentleman

Personified until he played his guitar.


Then a world of bad women, sharp knives, guns,

Spilled blood the howling Klan

Came out of his old man’s mouth.


Running from the twin dogs of war and poverty

Got him out of the hell the Delta could be

And let him listen to children, we were children


In his house. Black revolutionaries said blues don’t matter,

All those “Toms” strumming some dumb guitar.

They surely meant this kindly man with fire in eyes.


When Black Panthers were busted in Memphis,

A fundraiser was organized. And


Who were there—not the Memphis Rhythm and Blues

Establishment, their pimp hats cocked to the side.

Not the rock and roll hippie guys, they were for peace, man.

Nor the young “bloods” brandishing revolutionary rhetoric,

Spooked up, doped out.


There was this old man with a silly first name.

This old bluesman ferociously singing

Lifting up defiant young people.

No shame in his game.

Howling his blues, teaching


Us the sound of revolution—

Power to the people in an old man’s voice.

Owl and Ghost

Having heard owls, but not seen them,

Ghosts no longer perplex.

The membranes connecting the living and dead

Are so thin and can be breached.


On one side we breathe and talk and sleep and walk

About and take for granted the ease—oh Emily from

Our Town shouts her unheard words—the other ghosts

Nod their approval, but know the gesture useless.


We the living move against that thin line—sometimes

Peering once more into the eyes of a parent long dead

Or a lover whose kisses coasted bodies in our youth

Or the friend from college whose laughter disrupted

The library, most importune. Oh they roam across


Our minds like antelope herds, beautiful daring

But we cannot hear them. We can see again


Eyes that looked into our eyes

At birth or sense touch—the fever that left

In a few days or the slap when something said

Triggers anger. There the ghosts hover

Shift and rumble our dreams


Like owls in early morning demanding

We listen. The winter’s wind sharpens.

We are now willing

To contort our breath into puffs

That hover and shift like ghosts.


Patricia Spears Jones is a poet, playwright, educator and activist. She is a Black Earth Institute Senior Fellow emeritus. Her most recent collection is A Lucent Fire: New and Selected Poems. She grew up in Arkansas and now lives in Brooklyn.

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