for a bluesman
Tell me I have not been listening to the trouble in the heart of
a wild boy from Catskill, NY, his heart like an orphan
in her blue cotton dress stooping down to kiss the soil
that will offer her no bounty. Tell me
I have not been walking the river
of your voice that is wide and empty
as this country, the moon bound to a pine
on the other shore
with the sparrow of his own dark heart in his left breast
pocket, and no one kissing
liquor from his whisper. Tonight it is summer
in this valley and when I wade into the river
of your singing,
brother, there are barges loaded with iron from the North
country, the bones of things that never tried to rise.
Listen: I have scattered your ashes
like a farrier. I have lain down
in the steel skiff
of your lingering with its rust that sloughs
toward the darkness of the harbor.
The river is like that, a god’s passing, diminishing me.
Brother, drifter, train howl
from the valley with no one’s
mercy, when they carried you
from the burning of the granary
your boot soles were the wild nights
we are traveling to, moonshine in the cherry of their
leather. Your played hands were the badlands
of this nation. Drifter, traveler, no one, you who tore
your own heart like a gospel and knelt down
to burn it from its bindings, tell me if our first hymns
part the darkness.
Tell me if the fire is the fire.
Tell me, traveler
from a banished land,
what will I have done
when it is my turn in the cold fire of the vanishing
to lift myself to the long gone gods
and astonish them?