Homage to Blind Willie Johnson
Past Phobos & Demos, past Mars & its gorges of fossil water,
Past the wheeling numberless moons of Jupiter,
Past asteroid, crater & absolute zero, past red gas thunderclaps
More massive than a dozen earths, celestial
Himalayas of ice, the bright coronal Saturn rings,
Past Neptune, Triton, & storm-wracked Uranus,
Past spirochete comet head & the bleak realm
Of fallen sky gods, past stygian Pluto
Where sunlight is distant as a schoolroom
In the Alzheimer-riven midbrain of my grandfather,
Past color & conception, past sound wave
& the lavish carpal symmetries of gravity,
Past the Great Influenza of 1918 & the turbid
Bayous of East Texas seething cottonmouths, past
A training for salvation courtesy a bottle of lye
Burned into his six-year-old eyes by his stepmother,
Raging at his Daddy’s stray cat low down ways,
Past urinous shack & sharecropper cotton,
A cigar box guitar, fashioned of catgut & willow wood,
Past Beaumont & flophouse & Blood of the Lamb,
Past Jim Crow & Pentecost & Nagadoches, past the Full Gospel
Tabernacle African Reformed & street corner preaching
On the matter of John the Revelator, beholding His Book
Of Seven Seals, & the bees making honey in the lion’s head,
past cylinder disk & quarter note, past undulating neon
& a primitive mike in a Dallas hotel, 3 December, 1927,
A back-up band of foot stomp & the engineer coughing,
Blind Willie Johnson is flying.
On the Voyager Spacecraft he is flying,
With a Brandenburg Concerto & Olivier
Intoning Hamlet, with the symbol for Pi
He is flying, message in a bleeping whirring bottle
Hurled skyward for the delectation
Of extraterrestrials ten thousand years hence.
He is flying made of nothing but the otherworldly wail,
Of Dark was the Night, Cold was the Ground,
Wherein a hymnbook cliché is transfigured
& the afterlife commences with glissando,
Bottleneck & string, then the fretwork slowing
As the prayer wheel-cry emerges. The lyrics,
Like this earthly body, shed, replaced by feral moan.
Ah well, aaahhhh well, ah well ah well aaahhh well
Ah Lord. Our sorrows survive us, transfigured also.
Our sorrows lead us to the Promised Land.
Ah well, aahhh well. Bardo, Pleroma, Pearly Gate
& Shangra-la. Our sorrows pulse their sacred
Glossololia up & down the strings. Ah well, aah well
Ah Lord. Long fingered are our sorrows
& the afterlife three minutes eighteen seconds long,
& the afterlife is flying endlessly
& the distance & the blackness & the cold immense,
Ah well aahh well, ummm ummm.
Permit our afterlives to be so blessed.
Ah Lord Ah Lord Lord
By David Wojahn
Recipient of the 2008 Carole Weinstein Poetry Prize
Reprinted by permission of the University of Pittsburgh Press
from Interrogation Palace: New and Selected Poems 1982-2004 by David Wojahn.
Copyright © 2006 by David Wojahn.