Tyehimba Jess

1912: blind lemon jefferson explaining to leadbelly

…an’ everything gotta be ‘live on you son. read the crowd like a fortune
teller’s tealeaf, from the plunk of a nickel to the bang of a quarter to the
smell of thieves schemin’ on a blind man’s cash.
see this scar? i was between guitars in san antonio and broke enough to wrestle
men for carnival money. the one that did this had come back three times for a
ass whuppin’ only a fool could want again, but when he pulled that shiv outta his
boot, didn’t nobody say nothin – had they bets on how hard i was gonna bleed.
that’s what the world is, son. desperate enough to pin a blind man’s back to the
ground for all the money he can’t never even see. hungry enough to chop him
down for takin’ what he’s earned. that’s what the world is. they lost money that
day. an’ i squeezed my stella out the pawnbroker’s grip one last time.
that’s what that box o’ strings is, son. your boxcar ticket outta nowhere. maybe
even steak dinner, silk ties, and all the leg you can stroke. but you gotta
wrestle for it, son. you got to….

Tyehimba Jess
Poem, copyright © 2004 by Tyehimba Jess
Appearing on From the Fishouse with permission
Audio file, copyright © 2004, From the Fishouse