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The Joke’s on Me

I knew a trick­ster once.
A wide-eyed won­der,
see­ing noth­ing and feel­ing every­thing.
He nipped at the Moon’s skirts,
chas­ing her across the sky Knightly.
Honor, old and dusty to him.
All debts paid in heart coin.


I have no pur­pose.
Save that which I set.
My watch­word, the com­pany I keep.
Mir­rors in the faces that sur­round me.
These peo­ple hail from lands far and near.

The Road is closed.
I have for­got­ten the direc­tion.
Detour signs con­stantly lead­ing me astray.
New houses, no Home while I roam.
Truth dances up ahead, heat waves on tarmac.

Dharma the empty word.
Dis­ci­pline long absent these days.
Does the cry of havoc damn?
Dogs already loose, gnaw­ing my fret­ful mind.
Dawn never ready to illu­mi­nate the dark confusion.

Forced march, tune­less, foot­sore.
The Muse is on hol­i­day.
She’s left me no for­ward­ing address.
Hol­low sounds and empty words have no weight.
Trad­ing inspi­ra­tion for wine to make fire in my belly.

Shit flows from my lips, unceas­ing.
Self indul­gence fol­lows, self impor­tance ’round cir­cles.
I’m sick of myself.
Weak, faulted to the core.

Munich 2012


Most of the evening I had walked along­side the road, but the swamp had been steadily intrud­ing those last few miles. It had finally pushed me up the embank­ment and onto the road itself.
I don’t remem­ber why the road scared me. There were no street­lights and the old dirt byway, strewn with its bits of rock and oys­ter shell, ran straight. I would have been able to see any car com­ing for miles.
The logic gave me lit­tle com­fort. That dark unlit path from nowhere, lead­ing to nowhere, filled me with ter­ror. It brought back child­hood mem­o­ries of being lost and look­ing for my momma. Bad dreams that in hind­sight seemed prophetic. I had to fight the urge to run reck­less, arms akimbo and jacket flap­ping in the wind. Per­haps I’d have fallen into an abyss to be for­got­ten. But the lux­ury of obliv­ion was denied me. So I paced my panic, fol­lowed by fear and still I could not remem­ber exactly what had brought me out that night.
Look­ing back on it now, it’s easy to see how the Devil can get away with what he does. He’s got no over­sight. What I mean to say is, there’s no group or entity that can step in and audit his pro­ce­dures for cor­rup­tion. There I was, wan­der­ing a dark coun­try road in the mid­dle of the night and there was no one there to be my advo­cate. Not one per­son drove by and offered me a ride. No one stepped out of the swamp to shake his or her fin­ger at me and advise against the direc­tion I was tak­ing. I was com­pletely alone, until the cross­road.
It was a sud­den thing. My ears popped, just like in an air­plane. As the cicadas came rush­ing back in they brought a new sound with them. It was sul­try and sweet and held the promise of end­less nights of sat­is­fac­tion. My eyes fol­lowed the harmonica’s soft growl to a sin­gle, dead tree that stood at one cor­ner of the oth­er­wise bar­ren inter­sec­tion. A tall, dark fig­ure leaned against it, mak­ing love to the instru­ment in his mouth.
I stood mes­mer­ized. As I lis­tened I remem­bered why I had been on that deserted road, so late at night. It was to find this man, to find this place. I had come to make a deal with the Devil.
The music stopped and our eyes met. The dark man stepped out onto the road, pock­et­ing his har­mon­ica and held out his hand. I hes­i­tated and then extended mine. He cap­tured it, bring­ing it to his lips. Warm, red silk brushed my skin send­ing shiv­ers through my body toward more sen­si­tive places. His voice was a rich choco­late that com­ple­mented the sounds around him instead of com­pet­ing with them.

Ms. Watts, I am very pleased to make your acquaintance.”

I knew right then I was out of my depth. My twenty first cen­tury world of net­work­ing, lap­tops and smart phones held no power over this crea­ture. The whole of my life expe­ri­ences could not have begun to pre­pare me for the ele­men­tal sim­plic­ity of the force that stood in front of me. It was, of course, far to late to turn back. He smiled as if guess­ing my thoughts and I screwed up my courage to speak.

You have me at a dis­ad­van­tage, sir. And you are?”

He smiled again, the sun ris­ing briefly in his coun­te­nance. My heart stut­tered with excite­ment. Flushed, I was find­ing it hard to breathe. The warm night had turned sul­try and wet. His ebony skin glowed in the dark light as he removed his wide brimmed hat in a mock show of modesty.

You may call me Legba.”

There it was. Years of research and dis­ci­pline, of fast­ing and seek­ing, of trips across the globe, from the Himalayas to the jun­gles of Peru and I had finally found it. On this lit­tle coun­try road in the mid­dle of nowhere Mis­sis­sippi, a very ironic thirty miles from where I was born, we came face to face. After all of the drug tak­ing, the shamans, the vision quest­ing, I had finally found the entity that I was seek­ing.
You see he comes up cross cul­tur­ally, almost from the time we are able to keep records. Human soci­ety after human soci­ety has recorded their encoun­ters with this entity for gen­er­a­tions. In that way I guess, I’m no dif­fer­ent. This is my record, but I need it to be more than just another urban myth. I need you to under­stand in your bones how this is not just a fable about the dan­gers of get­ting what you think you want at the expense of who you are. This is an account­ing, as accu­rate as I can make it, of a social par­a­site. Like a fat tick, it has been attached to humanity’s under­belly, almost since the beginning.

Legba,” I repeated, try­ing the name on. “You know my name, so you must know why I’m here.”

His pursed, reproach­ful lips did noth­ing to dim the pri­mal aura ema­nat­ing from his body. With mock con­cern he tsk-tsk’d me, shak­ing his head.

Now Nora, May I call you Nora?” He did not wait for my con­sent. “You should know bet­ter than that. That’s not how this works.”

There was an expec­tant hush around me. As if all the night crea­tures were hold­ing their breath, wait­ing for what I would say next.

Can you make me a famous blues singer?” I blurted out.

Now think about this. After all the years of search­ing for this entity, and the count­less hours spent replay­ing in my head how this meet­ing would go, my words were a total shock to me. I could have asked for any­thing, from peace on earth to the cure for can­cer. I learned an impor­tant les­son right then, stand­ing at those cross­roads. When you open your mouth on your heart’s desire, the think­ing mind takes a back seat.
I used to sing in high school, you see. Attend­ing Our Lady of Per­pet­ual Help gave a young black girl few choices for her elec­tive time. It was either clap­ping erasers with Sis­ter Arce­neaux or the choir. Any­one with a mea­sure of tal­ent wound up in the choir. I wasn’t bad, but I wasn’t par­tic­u­larly good either. What I remem­ber most from those days is the pre­cious few times I was able to become lost in the song.
When things were just ‘so’ and we were per­fectly on pitch, we seemed to be able to make some­thing greater than each of us indi­vid­u­ally. It was like a vibra­tion, or a wave and it took me some­place lim­it­less and time­less. The col­ors around me were so bright, and the faces of every­one glowed in heav­enly beauty. Those were my favorite times.
Unbe­knownst to me, they set­tled into the back of my heart, wait­ing like a sub­tle assas­sin to drive the knife into my high ideals and lofty morals. And that is how a lit­tle girl’s secret desire sen­tenced human­ity to still more gen­er­a­tions of poverty, hunger and dis­ease. I couldn’t help but think of how many times this drama had played out in front of Legba. How often had he watched humans make the same, self­ish choice?

A famous blues singer.”

Legba’s state­ment held no con­dem­na­tion or sur­prise. If any­thing he seemed amused at my request. Or maybe he was amused that I wasn’t aware enough to have expected it to come out of my mouth.

Now that’s one I haven’t heard in awhile. But I s’pose peo­ple never really lose their hunger for the Blues. There’s just some­thing about that sound…all that ‘lonely, unful­filled need’. It just keeps y’all com­ing back for more.”

With a self-satisfied smile, Legba put his hat back on, crossed his arms and regarded me. Those eyes, for the rest of my short life, haunted me. They were the eyes of lovers, of so-called friends and even fam­ily. That night I got two gifts from Legba. I got the gift of the song­bird and I got to see those eyes. To see where he lived in my fel­low humans. See who took Legba’s deal.
I used to think I’d been tricked. My fairy gold had turned to leaves at dawn. My tal­ent had brought noth­ing but trauma and heartache to all around me. That he had cursed me just like the old sto­ries. But I know now, what he gave me was a gift and not a curse. He showed me the dark­ness at the very heart of each of us, the black flaws of hatred and jeal­ousy that are mir­rors for love and self­less­ness. I under­stand now that one can’t exist with­out the other.

Well sign right here, Ms. Watts and you shall have your heart’s desire.”

Legba pulled the old yel­lowed paper from his jacket. I remem­ber the paper. It was heavy and had a sort of oily slick feel to it. The words blurred in the starlight and seemed to evade the grip of my gaze. I felt heady, almost intox­i­cated with the feel­ing of pos­si­bil­ity, of power.
This is where I fell deep, into his thrall and into my own dark­ness. The rest of this story is not unfa­mil­iar. I sang, like a beau­ti­ful sad bird. I made money. I loved and I lost. Every­where I went those eyes fol­lowed me. Some­times they knew me for what I was, a fel­low deal­maker. Most of them had no idea of what they’d done, or how much they’d truly given up. When I tried to tell them, they’d just get angry, or worse.
This last gig, I saw a young woman in the crowd, a pretty lit­tle thing, with a bright gaze and an unruly mop of pale blonde hair. She was about to sign. Any day now and she would have his eyes. After my last song I sent for her from the dress­ing room. Her name was Crys­tal and she was going to be a singer too. I was her favorite female vocal­ist and right up until the moment she plunged that hunt­ing knife into my belly, she wanted to be just like me.
I tried to warn her, of the dark­ness that was wait­ing just beyond the light. I tried to tell her about the deals we make, lying awake next to our lovers in the dead of night. How there’s some­thing lis­ten­ing, and it usu­ally answers. I saw her fear turn to anger, then rage. It hap­pened so fast, I couldn’t stop it, but that’s okay.
I’m all right with dying, even though I never really became famous, so long as I can get this down for y’all to read and under­stand. I know, writ­ing this on the floor in my own blood is a bit mor­bid, but my legs don’t seem to want to work right any­more. Just remem­ber what I’ve said, warn oth­ers and look for the eyes.

An excerpt from the Times Picayune:
Last Wednes­day, blues singer Nora Watts was stabbed to death in her dress­ing room at the Rock ‘n Jay Music Club. Since the crime scene pho­tos were leaked to the pub­lic, her boot­legged con­certs have gone viral, already break­ing many down­load records.
The grisly pho­tos of Ms. Watts show her attempt­ing to paint a satanic sym­bol on the floor in her own blood. Fans are now try­ing to decode her lyrics and are attribut­ing hid­den mes­sages to many of her tra­di­tional pieces. Not very well known in life, in death Ms. Watts has become an Inter­net sensation.

Story Bones

The Story Bones,
Rat­tling through my Brane.
Twice told tales,
Dri­ving me to sane.
Iambic pen­tame­ter,
Rhyming diameter.

A par­rot could do bet­ter.
Cry free­dom from these fet­ters!
This shite will not cease!
Words, not mine to release,
Upon my fore­head they do crease.
I know I shall never find peace.

Cam­den, Lon­don 2010

The Joke

Oh the ludi­crous humor of life.
We strut and preen.
We stroke our hair.
Fill­ing our faces, a fra­cas of feces.
Do we know or even care?
Where is redemp­tion?
What’s wait­ing there?

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