i don’t know what it is, but i love old country blues. I.LOVE.IT. one of my first pieces in college was an ode to robert johnson and one of my last pieces last semester was an ekphrasis of a blues banjoist.
and now i’m in a history of the blues class so i want to write a poem about every effing lecture. and i’ve also amassed over 500 blues songs from 1924 to the present.
weirdly enough, none of my poems have been [intentionally] in the blues poem form. just poems about blues. guess i should try that next, but it has been so well done by so much better poets that i don’t want to make something suck. TOO MUCH PRESSURE.
so this first poem was a contemplated piece, but the second was a piece i edited a little after a 15 minute prompt in class, borrowing the line “let the devil use your head” from Yusef Komunyakaa’s “Blue Light Lounge Sutra For The Performance Poets At Harold Park Hotel.” BEAUTIFUL.
Beale Street Blues
Today I could buy some Greyhound tickets to Memphis
for eleven dollars, but then I’d only get as far as present-day
Beale Street and I’d rather go all the way back
to 1928 when the Sheiks played the Monarch Club
and I could groan along with them about the trauma
of travel and the betrayal of love, a bruise on the throat creeping
along the scale to the deepest blue. Why was every Deep South griot
blind? Why did they all choose the hardest ways to die?
Snorting, stamping, roaming wild with their twelve-strings
and bottleneck slides, they piece together broken folk
and hum gospel til the people move, fingers fumbling frets
for a scrap of cash large enough for the next swig.
I’ll climb aboard that bus, the exhaust like Eucharist
on my lips as I’m christened by the ghosts of rail hobos
and piney top performers, whose rhythmic strumming still
keeps time with the desperate rattle of steel wheels
on blackgum tracks. You won’t know me in the reverb
of hot-drink vision and slack-key tones, but
in the bellow of a bar measure, fluid like the emptying
of the Yazoo to the Mississippi, but strong like cotton
stalks on a hill, nursing a blood-scrawled Delta sunset.
Let the devil use your head
for a while. Fall down
on windblown crossroads,
your sense swallowed in the slide
of a broken bowie knife scraping
the steel-string fretboard spine,
Notes folding into a space between
scales, spiritual shakes and prison wails.
let the devil use your head
to knock questions against
rotted boxcar walls, blues cries
fertilizing the fields. You don’t recognize
the bones dug up from this silt, the black
grin of a ghost with a story wedged
in his molar made for the groove
of shellac records: a voice of empty
moaning, no place to go—
let the devil use your head,
shave a shank from your tongue
to swipe and swing free of the lumber yards,
and crop rows, no bars to block you,
a rolling strum with time and no tempo
like the rain re-sculpting the furrows—
a banshee loose on the delta-lands.