Out in Stoughton,
a few ghosts illuminated
by chorus of flickering jack-o-lanterns
that edge the windows.
I’m on stage, trying to move my fingers
over the strings just a little longer.
Fighting the pain in a hilltop bar,
where our ancestors speak
by the bend of the trees or the fumes
blown from Toyotas idling in the gravel park.
Wood floor covered by pull tabs,
drippings from the pork
and lager head.
there ain’t a saint in this whole town
but there’s a woman with wings
made out of coat hangers
and she’s trying to touch
the nickel running up
the neck of my guitar,
she might be the only one alive
I can barely hear my own heart.
Jack O Diamonds
Diamonds is a hard card to find – Lonnie Donnegan
Life is a deck of cards
Matt sings in-between
sips of beer from a coffee mug,
his yellowed fingertips
shaking, the foam lapping
over the rim, to his lips.
He hasn’t shaved in days.
Smokes like he’s been
on death row for years,
just a few minutes
from the switch pull.
We’re on his front porch
in the part of my hometown
that no one wants to come from.
The abandoned railroad runners,
the church parking lot overgrown
with waist high northern grass.
Going lick for lick
until my finger tips
have depressions down to bone.
His songs too sad to sing,
never recreated again.
1065 Selby Ave
The walls, eggshells
shattering, my upstairs neighbor
got concrete blocks for feet,
my god damn beating head.
It’s a Midwestern earthquake,
my empty whiskey bottles
rattle on the top of the ice-box;
steel kettles, Tijuana jazz.
It’s some kid trying to learn
the trapset and don’t have
the damnedest idea
about the pocket.
Sometimes just makes me want
to beat on my guitar,
black with the maple.
Rip all day. Running scales
only the devil knows.
Howl like Muddy Waters
after he reels in a big one,
further down the old Mississippi.
I call this one the Saint Paul Blues.
Kokomo Arnold on the stoop outside a church, soaking in the sun.
His guitar cracking with heat from his fingers
and a broken bottle of Thunderbird. It’s a song that could
bring your daddy to his knees.
One by one, the people drop silver into his open hat
but he looks past everything into the world where
god cooks him breakfast, her hands soft
as the day she made him.
This ain’t his daytime job no more,
his hands forever stained with grease
from the nine to five grind where machinery bumps steel
in the back pocket of a faceless mill, Chicago, Illinois.
But he got it pretty good and don’t he know it,
Just ask Scrapper Blackwell, his body leaking blood
in the back alley in the hollow part of Indianapolis.
was away when his wife left;
her arms thin as the rings
inside the heart of an adolescent birch,
she kissed her baby in honor
of the holy trinity. One, two, three,
the only part of this that is romantic.
played the saddest song
anyone ever heard. The baby
howled in crib, his father
not knowing how to even hold
the young thing.
who has broken everything he has ever touched
that wasn’t made out of wood or steel
wishes he could fix anything important.