mister hooker

sweat steam mississippi nights
howling whiskey women children
can anyone be saved if the religion is blues
loss and years on northern streets
southern crossroads cost less than a soul
hellhounds empty at sin’s gospel altar

John Lee can that stool stay balanced
guitar bass harmonica flood the stage
you ride it hands empty holding
tupelo streets chicago heat
howling whiskey women kingsnake children
left with smoke and broken glasses

night trains running silent whistles
boxcars full memphis emptying into the river
barges push their way to greenville
choke on jackson square riders facing north
howling whiskey new orleans women children
threadbare pockets and wet full lips

open hands close together and night sings
Muddy Little Walter Bo Slim Willie Sonny Boy
Howling Wolf whiskey women boogie children
rain’s falling ditches choking on red clay
hope’s the girl and boy in the empty corner
shadows filling hands with more than sound



Rock Around with Ollie Vee

Buddy Holly raves on as we dance, trying to grind
our hips close—rub together like two sticks
starting a notion to a fire—but the chaperones
would catch us before there was even smoke,
send you across the room to dance slow and apart
from a heavy-footed boy, put me up against the wall,
a warning, a pariah to all the girls who have no partners.

So there is no chance for flame though we are burning,
no chance my tongue will ever find yours unless we
are alone in the dark, your bra hanging like a question
mark off my rearview mirror. Sam Cooke will stop
singing “You Send Me” as religious broadcasting
fills the airwaves, preaching damnation to the small town
needy, and I wonder if Sister Cindy or Brother Jack

ever hold anyone so close they can count each breath
declaring a gospel of want, good news echoing each touch
weaving fingers through a shock of tousled hair, weighing
the transubstantial in every soulful word that passes
like a vow marking this pilgrimage of desire between
the static crackling sound through our silence, over
our woeful knowledge of promise and absolution.



Is You Is or Is You Ain’t

                for Louis Jordan (July 8, 1908 – February 4, 1975)

Sixty-nine miles from Memphis, Little Rock
sixty-nine miles behind, Brinkley sits halfway
from city to city with all country in between

and the sound of the fields and the road sing
the past and future, cotton fields and oil boom-
town dance halls, Hot Springs and Al Capone

all leading the “King of the Jukebox” beyond
gigs in season to the hottest jump blues band,
a Tympany Five of six or seven hot players

all energy, joy, and verve, the leader swinging
his saxophone like a conductor’s baton, like
a gold wand mesmerizing both black and white

audiences so far now from his early days in
the all-black classrooms of the Consolidated
White River Academy, music the only subject

that moved him, his father taking the boy with
the Brinkley Brass Band on the road to keep
him out of picking cotton, leading to work

as singer, dancer, musician with the Rabbit
Foot Minstrels, the Dixie Melody Syncopaters,
the Salt and Pepper Shakers, Imperial Serenaders,

Harmony Kings, playing gigs at the Tell-’Em-
’Bout-Me Café, the Beverly Gardens Ballroom,
the Green Gables, and Club Belvedere, until

Arkansas wasn’t big enough, Philadelphia,
Atlantic City, New York and Harlem’s Apollo
Theatre ahead, tours across the South and West,

mid-Atlantic and Northeast with Chick Webb’s
band, he failed to steal away Ella Fitzgerald
and finally formed his own, his way, the comic

and sublime side by side, his smile a siren
flashing get out of the way the party was on
Sunday afternoon beans and cornbread till

the next Saturday night fish fry, the train
boogieing down the tracks where a woman
named Caldonia or Fleecie would break him

or his heart if he didn’t do the same first, but
the good times kept singing, kept rolling, until
his heart stopped, called him to hurry home.



Slim’s Sonnet

This heart’s rain falls like bees spill
from a hive in clouds of pain

and noise whipping the sun’s fields
into a sweet dust-covered bed

of life for a hungry queen, a scrim
of gold and shade painting

the planetary center the notes
orbit. Scratch it easy, scratch it

hard and fast, like the tongue
finds the chords on the mouth harp,

the breath a twisted cry of a train
whistle heading north, no goodbye

letter in the mailbox, devil’s tears
on a sunny day, buzzing, baby, buzzing.


~  ~  ~

TribbleJon Tribble’s first collection of poems, Natural State, will be published by Glass Lyre Press in 2016. His poems have appeared in print journals and anthologies, including Ploughshares, Poetry, Crazyhorse, Quarterly West, South Dakota Review, Pirene’s Fountain, and The Jazz Poetry Anthology, and online at The Account, Levure littéraire, Prime Number, and storySouth. He teaches at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, where he is the managing editor of Crab Orchard Review and the series editor of the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry published by SIU Press.