Poem with a Refrain from Charley Patton

ACCESS PURCHASE
Students and scholars can access articles for free via Project Muse.

Poem with a Refrain from Charley Patton

by Travis Smith
Southern Cultures, Vol. 17, No. 4: Music

". . . and now the guitar's high note sings what he can't sing it—"

You hear him sing it
when you come to strike
the match
and you catch a noseful of sulfur
and the kindling starts to burn

when you come to learn
you can’t say some consonants
without vowels
and hear the fire
speaking them for you,

the flame-tongues
in the hearth’s black mouth
crackling like static
in the old shellac
of the Charley Patton 78,
you hear him sing it

You gonna need somebody when you come to die

and when you hear him sing it
the second time through
the final note
jumps the octave
to a register too high for his voice to reach

You gonna need somebody when you come to

and now the guitar’s high note
sings what he can’t sing

You gonna need
You gonna need somebody
You gonna need somebody when you come tonow

now the hiss of smoke
now the static
now the unsingable octaves and the trackless air.

RELATED CONTENT