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.