Robert Johnson poem from my 2007 bluechrome Collection The Way We Came

Mastering the Guitar

The mysteries of tablature yield

shape by shape. The strings sing their metal

sentences. None of this is enough.

*

In Clarksdale once, an man

sold his soul for mastery,

to be King of the Blues.

He found a totem place, crossroads.

Take the bone from a cat, black

as a shellacked guitar, black

as the skin of Robert Johnson himself,

the devil’s slave now. Unwrap your guitar.

Start to play the only way you can.

Keep pickin’. Sense another’s breathing.

Hear the pluck of unseen hands,

press your fingers without cease,

frets stain with blood

blue as the Blues in the ghostly dark.

Let the whites of your eyes show

white as bone, in full moon light,

playing your immortal soul away.

You’re branded now, master.

You can play any tune, embellish

and syncopate like the devil himself.

Go home in morning silence

and astonish your friends. It will be enough.

Any tune you like, remember.

*

Travellers to Clarksdale, where

Highway 61 and Highway 49

cross one another in the night,

find only a bricked-up Laundromat.

Squatters’ rights, on Johnson’s corner,

lye soap to wash away the blues.

Too many poor folk here, the devil’s

long moved on.

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