Tag Archives: tragedy

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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

part of me isn’t super comfortable with this

Because I have taken on a persona I may not be entitled to taking on, and this piece was a realy lambitious one for me. But since seeing Aaron Huey’s photography from Pine Ridge Reservation, writing a 15-page research paper on the subject and reading works like Ceremony, the Red Mustang, and My Life is My Sundance, I have always been angered and fascinated by the plight of the Native American people, particularly those suffering on Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. So, I thought I’d try to give voice to my sense of outrage through poetry.
This piece feels like my first openly political one, too. But I want to start working on incorporating my passion for social justice with my creative writing, so I guess this was my first stab at that.
Also, this is SUPER SUPER ROUGH. I literally posted the product of about 2 hours of furious research and work. Any comments and feedback would be helpful–especially a better freaking title. Ack.

The Youth of Pine Ridge

The player in the broken pickup shreds our last tape, spewing
black ribbons from the slot and bringing Tupac to a warping halt.
We are murderous but mostly tired, joining the sticky melt
of sun-pressed leather, dozing in a summer boiling with green flies
and Black Hills grit. To the south, a storm shuffles to the rim
of the coral desert ridge: a hulking beast shaggy with jungles
of rain and thunder and electrifying light. Sothern storms
darken and devastate. We should kick this junker to life
and drive, escape the silver shafts of rain. We are grounded
in a sea of prairie spiked with white crosses and graves,
graveled earth and ghosts. There is no more music
to hold the demons at bay. We dissolve, formless as sage smoke
in the heyoka’s pipe—that jester wrongs every right, but
cannot outgrow the shadows creeping into his Sun Dance.
When did we ever feel Spirit Mother open her arms for us?
The massacres haunt us from the blood-greased grass,
black mold bubbles on the walls of our homes, desperate
children eat off floors as their parents curl into themselves,
muffled by beer and bureaucratic genocide.
We dream to survive. On sweat-swirled coats of buckskin
ponies, we take our suicide rides. Under the flag-strewn
branchesof a razed cottonwood, we pray to know the mystery
of Wakan: nothing is all good or all bad; it all depends.
In the depths of this aluminum corpse, everything
looks broken. We shouldn’t stay but there is nowhere else
to go. The afternoon is on the edge of collapse,
hollow and hungry. When we reach out the shattered
windows to let the ruined cassette stream on storm-taut wind,
we remember the stories of our scars: an initiation knife
heated on a burner then pressed in stripes on the upper arm,
burning, warning that we are still wounded.

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Filed under New Writing, Poetry, Summer work, Unedited, Unpublished