leadbelly v. lomax
at the
modern language association conference, 1934

a costume.
dark overalls,
and ugly-ass shitkickers,
clutched like gifts in his outstretched hands chase the stink of mule dirt back
into my head. now he wants me
to wrap my music in a brown bag of coon
to give them what folks ‘spect to see,
says ineed the genuine look of farm boy
to sow blues’ dirty fingers between their ears

i remember
fame’s promises:
$100 suits is what made me believe.
$50 wing tips made me a convert.
$5cigars helped seal the deal.

like always,
dog-tongued anger
laps at my palms
shrinks my bowels
like a clenched fist

an outfit.
new blue jeans,
clean head wrap,
some simple, old, sturdy shoes
are a proper field hand’s uniform,
dressing down—it raises gods
dark enough to capture the authentic blues, bringing southland to a crowd that
says they want to hear how it sounds for a black to scrape heaven’s dusty starlight out
     of hell.
to tally up
and close accounts
$3 for the coveralls, and they were on sale.
$1 for the work boots, sold at half-price,
and here, a handshake serves as contract.
it’s strange, but,
sometimes loathing
bursts from his eyes,
pummeling me—
striking ‘cross my face
let’s face it
i’m parole on parade
wanted poster on a short leash,
biding time beneath the law
of a master i chose myself.
that faded rucksack of yassuh
growing one load heavier
with each slow grin
stitched across my lips
i’m an ex-cons keeper,
something I cant much forget
in this prison choked country
i cannot absolve this man of
his greatest crime—the crime of race—
binding us all to blood,
cutting through skin,
burning through history.

lomax v. leadbelly:


my dream

of setting up
him and
martha on a farm
stocked with cattle, pigs, chicken
with a room in the house unlocked

in life wasn’t his—
his small “dream”—
with this simple negro
livin’ like a domestic
and such—livin’ small
for his pleasure, grinnin’ up

only when

“de big boss and de little boss”
come to visit—
was only
wantin’ our shine: yeah—
white folk’s fantasy,