Rank amateur or
he jangles strings, chords bouncing off tiles
of the gritty subway station a few levels above hell.
The guitar case is open, and at the end of the day
thirty pieces of silver and a few dollar bills
land on its soft green lining like leaves from an invisible tree.
Even Judas likes to listen to a little rhythm and blues
or a rock and roll riff and the tapping of Goodwill shoes.
Sometimes he parries and thrusts his own
an undiscovered poet who thinks that if Dylan could do it,
then, well, there ya go. It ain’t no use to sit and wonder why.
Other times he rolls with the peeling set list—
Little Susie woke up in the house of the rising sun—
taped to the waist of a guitar as cheap as Mona Lisa wine.
He can pander Pure Prairie League or the Rolling Stones.
Hell, he can do it all even if thumbs have worn away the buffalo nickel shine.
Every fifteen minutes, a silver bullet
with gang graffiti takes his music
uptown or downtown, where a studio exec might say,
“Ya know, I heard this guy busking out novenas today,
and maybe something lies beneath the dirty jeans and mop-top shock of hay.
The busker closes shop, climbs the steps from Purgatorio,
and shuffles through a melody in his head, notes littering the street
to the applause of sparrows in a purple twilight tree.
Somewhere during the night in the throes of an electric dream
still pulsing from the twelve-bar subway
an angel dressed in white lightning and downlow leather lands the jump.
“Here, write this down, you crazy son of a bitch.”
Love ain’t love until you’ve thrown it all away.
“Been there, right?
Your penance is to play for the moonstruck mix shouting for Barabbas,
for ticket holders, turnstiles, and cave paintings at New Lascaux,
to busk from dawn to dusk, to play and play and play.”
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