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MORE BLUES POETRY. this is an earlier, unedited version.

How the Blues Die

Bessie Smith flew from her car like an angel
and broke open at the ribs and wrists, died
neglected on the white hospital stretcher.

Blind Lemon Jefferson froze to death on the streets
of Chicago, lost in the snow—a thing
he feared in the blank of his eternal whiteout.

Memphis Minnie stroked out, so they shoved
her into a nursing home til her expiration date,
aphasic save for the livid spittle laced to her lip.

Charley Patton became a sizzling collapse
of the heart’s infarction—an entropy of passion
as plaque bloomed like a lily in his ventricles.

Peg Leg Howell burned, corroded by the syrupy
sweet of diabetes that claimed his legs first—
bad sugar crystallizing slow along his thighs, crippling.

Pine Top Smith caught a stray bullet to the chest when
his boogie-woogie spun out of control—he lurched forward
over the bloodied ivories skewed by reckless shots.

Leadbelly escaped every prison except the one
as big as his body: the iron maiden of Lou Gherig’s
shackled his limbs from within and snuffed him out.

Robert Johnson played too far out of hand in Greenwood—
gutted by the barman’s jealous slip of arsenic over his
fifth whiskey, a milky swill of revenge in amber depths.

Big Bill Broonzy felt the cancer coagulate in his throat,
cutting off his vocal flow as he punched riffs into his guitar
and onto the pale, sunwashed porch after morning chemo.

Leroy Carr drowned in the depressive cloy of canned heat—
the crush of drinking to death, while Willie Johnson
suffocated on the icy ash of his burned-out home. Pneumonia

lying heavy in his chest, he hummed “Dark was the Night,
Cold was the Ground” to forgotten streets, careful to still
the chalk-grind of his bones as he sighed off mid-moan.

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Filed under for class, New Writing, Poetry, Unedited

another blues-inspired piece (to be read aloud)

i’ve been thinking a lot about the page v stage debate of writing poetry. poetry is great for reading, but the performative aspect of poetry has become more important to me as my friends and i continue to do group readings together at a cafe in town. so anymore, i write with the thought in mind that i’ll have to read it aloud to a crowd that isn’t familiar with its construction on the page. so my voice on the page is more concerned with sound, rhythm, significance of content/message, etc.
aaannnyways, here’s something i pretty much spoke as i wrote it.
it’s also about blues again (I HAVE A LOT OF LISTENING HOMEWORK FOR THIS HISTORY OF THE BLUES CLASS). and me feeling aggressive and placeless in the (in)security of travel and late-night wandering in an unfamiliar place.

Chicago for the Weekend
“I just feel dissatisfied baby, / I don’t know what to do.
Have you ever had that same feeling, babe, / to come over you?”

—Leeroy Carr, “Blue Night Blues”

When I was little, I wanted to be a firefighter.
I got bigger but still too small to fringe the flames
of a burning building, so I stuck with the embers
seething in my stomach and ripped wild across cornrows
and factory fields to this new dreamscape, circling
the streets of this blasted city like bomb-shocked shadow.
Cigarettes drown in the rain-wash of sewers clogged
with street trash and stench, skunked booze
and vegetables cooked to death—
no nourishment lurks here, no satisfaction. I love
the labyrinth of this urbania, the dark fall
of skyscrape on walkways where hooded figures
hulk hungry, weaving their looms of history
into brick-blood and aged iron-cast eaves.
The corner blues-prophet exhales exhausted
lines into the smog, his internal purge adding
to the empty choke of air-waste and endless
smolder, and I’ll moan mantras under his divine
apocrypha, the agonizing rot of dying so
alone and undone in the after-hours—all bound
by frayed gut-string. Oh, hold me slow, hold me hard,
hypnotizing rock of underground bench-beat
rattling subterranean railways. I am not
from here, I know no soft place to rest.
Cold winds whip their cadence of crying
into verses of ice, alchemizing energies
of loop traffic and neon-bright tunnel rush—
yes. I need the heat of forgotten jazz scratching
the vinyl and spilling to the backstairs, the quiet
crumble of the fire-escape parting from the high-
rise. You are my surrogate tonight, my lover
arcing back in some orgasm of blown-out
voice and anxious time. Your sirens scream
so red in their flash down alleyways, searching
for the torturous scorch of my slow jam
imploring the ruby truck to stop by, to deliver
relief from the brutal knuckling of this angry kiss.

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Filed under for class, New Writing, Poetry, Unedited, Unpublished

blues is my muse

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.
anyway.
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.

Muse

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.

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Filed under for class, New Writing, Poetry, Unedited, Unpublished