a Thanksgiving Poem by Lemondrop Johnson

by Jim Doss
Wild Poetry Forum
Second Place, January 2016
Judged by Lee Slonimsky

The blues is like a dog gone mean from lack of tenderness.

For seven hard years I worked
the plantation of her love,
chipped away at the hardpan,
felled trees to clear new fields.

More than my share.

Deep in summer when the mosquitoes
were the size of hummingbirds,
I wrapped stumps with a logging chain,
spun comet trials of dust
with my tires,
courted her with crowbar
in hand as she and her friends
drank lemonade in a gazebo
by our trickle of a river.

I went halves on everything with her,
sharecropping her soul,
dreams and night sweats,
the trout leaping up to kiss the moon,
cotton plants raising their shriveled clouds
up to the sky for rain.

Her bedroom was a trembling bridge
no man would dare cross uninvited
as she sat in front of her mirror
brushing waterfalls of hair,
or looking at the bee
inside the rose crushed
between the leaves
of the family Bible,
those names written in longhand
who had long since passed into backwater.

And here I am now,
snow nipping at my ankles,
a cigarette
burning back through the years,
smoke, beer, a wall on which I lean.

My nights are spent dancing,
holding a sax in my arms,
swaying in the hazy drunkenness
of people who don’t give a damn
about anything but the groove.

I can listen to the rain,
watch it drip off the brim of my fedora
as I lie myself back into a younger body,
into bodies that never touched
but in thought.

And it is for these lies
I give thanks,
carve my life into small pieces
like notes on a register,
and blow through a moist reed.

My fingers
move over the keys
as though I were loosening a zipper,
unhooking a bra,
feeling her skin wrap around me
like a bandage to heal
all that got broke in the fields.

But she is like a porch swing
with a frayed rope,
the weight of the wind
is almost too much.

A bird song
just might be enough
to bring the whole house crashing down.

A sprawling, robust blues poem with outsize metaphors like “when the mosquitoes/were the size of hummingbirds”, and “my fingers/move over the keys/as though I were loosening a zipper.” Natural surroundings (“the trout leaping up to kiss the moon”) receive parallel flourishes in the voice of a saxophonist looking back with bitter harmonies over the now vanished years. Lemondrop Johnson appears grateful for his potent mix of real and unreal memories, and his longings so poignant yet so frail too much melody can bring “the whole house crashing down.” The poem makes music of love in a musician’s life, and conjures up trills of refrains that allow poetry to participate fully in the great musical tradition of the blues. --Lee Slonimsky