[I tried once to write an essay about the blues, and ended up with a story; I tried twice and ended up with a poem.]
I followed the old dirt road on down
Into the blues country, where the trees
Grow thick, and the rivers are many and thin.
On the map in my pocket they spread out like fingers,
Grasping and squeezing the overcast country.
Each river was crossed by many bridges,
And none of the bridges were lonely. For each
An old man is in charge, whose job
Is giving directions: the maps from the highway
Are drawn with the rivers, never the roads.
The old man at the first bridge sat,
Watching me while I walked to him.
He said to me: “Walk on, young man,
Don’t sit or rest, just keep on walking,
Don’t look behind you, that shadow ain’t yours,
I know this country, I was born in the town,
Trust me and walk on, don’t linger or rest.”
The sun was so faint that I took off my hat
And threw it down to float on the river,
Hoping that I might meet it again.
I came to the second bridge and heard:
“Now sit a spell, it’ll do you good,
I see you’re tired, your legs must ache.
Sit down and talk, don’t walk in vain.
Stay here and take it easy a while.
I was born in this country, don’t bother to hurry,
There’s plenty of time, just stay and talk.”
But I saw my hat was floating by,
So I said that I had to follow it on.
He only nodded, and sighed when I passed.
Before I saw him up ahead
I heard the old man was shouting,
But his voice was too hoarse to understand.
Once I was close enough he said:
“I told you already to turn on back.
You can see there’s no more road from here,
Don’t walk in the woods, there’s no way on,
I was born near here, I love this place,
I tell you now, take it from me,
There’s no way out but the way you came.”
But before I could turn, my hat went past
And I had to go on after it.
He said: “Go on, I’ll cry for you.”
At the fourth bridge my old hat was waiting.
It was stuck in the rushes. I squeezed it dry,
Then beat off the dirt, then covered my face
While I sat and slept, till someone came
Walked up through the woods, all covered in scratches.
I said: “Now where do you think you’re going?
You have to find another way.
You’ve come the wrong way and I know,
Trust me, I know, I was born in this country.
I know all the ways, don’t cross my bridge,
Just double back, you still have time.
I warn you: find another way.”
But he said: “It’s late, I have to go.”
He crossed my bridge and I cursed his back,
Saying: “You stupid tourist, I said
I was born in this country, I know it well,
You ought to heed me, don’t go that way.”