Friday, August 5, 2016

Two Poems by Mike Roach


I.  Cadence

Woke up this mornin'
Feeling like Pete Seeger when he looked like Lizzie Borden
Folklore sold me a soul like Bonnie Parker and a grin like Clyde Barrow
And they drove me home with bullet holes whispering, nibbling van Gogh's earlobe
The sun and moon distracted her from the epilogue
Dusk and dawn were our rise and fall

The engine is writing letters and the rain is reading them aloud
Shouting, "The undertaker will be the last person to let you down!!"
And "We was then and this be now!"
Do we really want or need to see another soapbox episode?
All the little droplets dread the epilogue
As they sing the gospel of a rise and fall

Judas, in his lifelessness, lives out his loneliness
Hanging paintings in a cemetery museum
And on his tombstone when he buries his legacy alive
Is an epitaph that'll make you laugh and cry and laugh and cry and laugh and cry
They hired me to write his obituary and the epilogue
His life and death played out like a rise and fall

Saw her smoking dirt from a tin foil hat
She screamed bloody murder and she let me have it
Let her little light shine, raised her blade, said "Goodbye, Charley Patton"
And left my throat a gorgeous disaster
Now it's getting dark and I can't seem to read the epilogue
Crimson smudges taste like a rise and fall

II.  Memphis Died with Elvis

Sheriff's department shine runners
Running gypsy kind up into their treehouses
With their necktie nooses tied around branches
Pulling at threads and pulling with pliers
Razor-sharp teeth from the mouths of sheep
Poison ivy crowns resting on the heads of liars
Absconded by wolves in pelts of fleece
This is where the soul of a man comes to die

III.  This Machine Kills Free Thought

Forever picked a beautiful hill to die on
Buzzards circle the sunlight in anticipation
Waiting, salivating over someone else's prey
Remember tomorrow like it happened yesterday
And never present the gift of present tense
Innocence, in a sense
Bloody fingerprints on the piano keys
I pieced myself back together with pieces of you
But I took nothing you'll miss and I promise to
Return it all when I come back from the point of no return
You're sentimentally insane about watching me burn
You're the one who tied me to the stake
But I was able to walk away so
Don't give it another thought and
Forget yourself in something eternal so you'll never be forotten
Open the box and put on the pawn shop diamond ring
Hope my neck doesn't break so you can watch me swing

IV.  Needle in a Needlestack

Liver decaying, salvation fading, they drag me to the guillotine
Selling souvenir transcripts of the trial from the printing press death machine
And in my passing, the man says, "Good luck, but. . .
Dead stars are only ever so pretty in the dark.
Who do you think you are?"
"I am nobody.  How do you intend to kill a man with no body?"
"You'll pay with your head for what you did.
And we'll all breathe easy when your breathing ends."
His laugh is mad and he's made
As I moaned like a sinner on Revival Day
He cremated me and he's compensated
With $6 in quarters taken from the coin-operated stockade in town square
Grey clouds gather and rain on the solar-powered electric chair


I.  Living in a Van Down by the River

Faust found himself down and with a story to tell
Prostituting his truth to have a story to sell
And without a word sat beneath the tree
To write in pain his train track tragedy

Faust found himself down in Clarksdale
With Legba's hounds on his trail
A bargain on the run, bought for a broken song and sold
The highways tortured Faust's poor paid-for soul

Faust finally found his way up to Memphis
With a bottle and a book, coming back from New Orleans
Papa's rabid dogs ran him down
Into the dirt of the road

Faust found himself buried a few miles out of town
The sky was open any which way he looked around
His eyes rolled back and he knew the blues
When the old man with the crutch came to collect his due

II.  Sultana

2 a.m., April 27, eighteen-hundred-sixty-five
Eighteen-hundred dead by sunrise
Riverboat hauling prisoners of war
And news of the death of the commander-in-chief
Battle lines were drawn in the waves
Seven miles north of Memphis, Tennessee
When sweet Sultana went down to the riverbed, up in flames
Leaving men to freeze in the Mississippi or burn with the boat
The weakened soldiers clung to life and clung to one another
And clung to branches on the trees the river had risen over
Water filled their lungs to the point of bursting
And sent visceral shrapnel into their rib cages, heartbreaking

III.  Tributaries

If it keeps on raining, the levee's gonna break
The townspeople all pray to be saved
And the runoff drains into open graves
Levees kicked down by a foot of rain a day

The bars and brothels on Beale Street form a new bluff
Some run up north, some keep with whores and get drunk
Drowning in whiskey and watching the water rise
Looking their lovers in the eyes across the river, 60 miles wide

Holding onto grandma's wedding rings and a few old family photos
As the whole town drops to a watershed stroke
Bullets and a beans are traded for hooch, opium, and coke
Men carve felled trees into boats, bloated corpses float

Conducting an orchestra of deafening thunder and struggling cries
Settling electric sculptures against a soul-swallowing sky
Sitting on the roof of a farmhouse, watching fish and furniture pass by
Dipping toes in the water and singing hymns of the endtimes

IV.  Wife Gone on the Funeral Train Blues

I'm going crazy without you here
Bringing gods to their knees and stones to tears
Divert your attention, avert your eyes
I'd swim 2,000 miles of filthy water to meet you on the other side

An apparition presented, the mirror resented
The bride in the hearse, the logical poet demented
I'd do anything for you but I refused to die
I'm gonna go where you are and bring you back alive

Two parts courage and three parts trust
Don't look back, sometimes might be gaining on us
I walked with you until the very end
and turned around just in time to watch you disappear again

I sang the blues until my throat bled
My fingertips blistered and the wine went to my head
I broke into hell to undo what the vipers done
I can't love you in death, as I did in life
I'm losing my breath, but know I tried
Tread through fire to bring you back home

Mike Roach is a blues-symbolist poet from Memphis, Tennessee.  His work strives to "paint a picture of a Gothic south, an area of the country rich with history and tragedy."  Mike is also lyricist and bassist for Memphis-area noise-pop band blood like wine.

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