Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Shotgun House

It’s five in the afternoon, and the old black man
plays his twenty-seven-dollar guitar on the front porch
that sags a little deeper as he makes the lyrics ache.

The shotgun house is loaded with memories
of a gravel voice, majors and sharps and flat-out Cs.
As axemen are fond of saying, he can really bend the strings.

The air smells like the muddy Mississippi five blocks away,
and the calliope on the steamboat pipes circus music
to a cirrus cloud that looks like a bow tie floating

above a Mardi Gras ball where Comus and Rex swap wives.
Mudfoot, as he is known, has a recording contract
with his neighbors, who wear wifebeaters and fix their own cars.

He played backup for Chuck Berry in nineteen-fifty-six
and cut a demo at Sun records called “Two Below in Tupelo.”
The sky grows a deeper blue as a buxom black woman

balancing fruit on her head like Carmen Miranda calls out
“Blackberries! Watermelons! Fruit on the vine!”
The old man goes inside to eat a plate of red beans and rice.

On Saturday it will be crawfish and a bottle of beer.
He shares a bed with the ghost of his wife Mabel,
who still whispers sweet nothings in his ear

as he turns in his sagging hall of fame
and dreams of how he and Chuck set the crowd on fire
with a little mojo and a taste of the twelve bar blues.

He grins and says, “I’m the happiest man this side of Sunday,
and when I die, I ain’t even gonna make the six o’clock news.”

~William Hammett

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