Blues (Double) Standards

For you Blueswoman,
I regret to inform you,
But your child will feel motherless,

And Big Mama Thornton won’t truly be validated while alive,
Though a hound dog named Elvis
Will ascend the charts and throne of her genre.

Fellas you pine for shall be fools to you;
They’re gonna be stooges and nincompoops
Who likes their gals and dolls submissive.
Or they’re gonna be two-timers
Who will snoop ‘round summer dresses when you’re not lookin’;
You’ll try, but you just won’t be able to quit ‘em.

Your Empress shall perish harder than the life she lived.
While her lover and driver will escape without bruises,
Bessie Smith will drift in and out of consciousness from a vehicular collision,
And in the black hospital’s effort to save her, her right arm will be amputated;
She will be lowered in a grave, unmarked for decades.

Blueswoman,
Your daughters, countless pretty browns in beautiful gowns and hand-me-downs,
Shall toil on their backs in brothels,
Weeping from the strangers who devour them at night,
And then spit them out like chicken bones in the morning.

For you Bluesman,
I lend you my guitar and the train rails….

 

When Cutting Open a Baseball

With a knife as sharp as Ty Cobb’s spikes,
You cut open a baseball,
Peeling its two red laces, like layers across an onion;

Your tears fall over it, despite the fact
That Tom Hanks ordered no mingling between crying and baseball.

It’s waterlogged now, like a pitch from a Dead-ball Era.

After drying it,
You stir and twiddle the string within your fingers a hundred times over,
Like trying to find the best grip to choke up on the bat,
Until you shift your hands so quickly,
That the skin inflames with splinters and friction burn;

You lose your peace of mind,
Like so many Negro ballplayers when integration was denied for decades.

You unfurl layers and layers of string found within the ball.
You drop the darkish yarn onto the carpet floor,
And it resembles a clutter of spider legs,
Like the kind found on old-timey Cleveland uniforms.

The lining within your palm is thinning like the margins
Until there’s nothing except a black, corked rubber ball,
Resembling a BB pellet.

 

Matthew Johnson earned his MA in English from UNC-Greensboro. A Northern Transplant, he has worked as a sports journalist/editor for Fansided, USA Today College, and The Daily Star (Oneonta, NY). His poetry has appeared in Maudlin House, The Roanoke Review, The Maryland Literary Review, The Sport Literate, The New Southern Fugitives, the Twin Bill, and elsewhere. He’s a Best of the Net Nominee (2017) and has published one book, Shadow Folk and Soul Songs (Kelsay Books).