the museum of americana

a literary review

B. B. King on His Bicycle – Poetry by Norbert Krapf

for Dina Bennett & the B.B. King Museum

B.B. is still young big-eyed Riley
and he’s already got a vibrato
in his fingertips and song in his heart

and he’s lost his mama and seems
like the next day his grandma
and his daddy went elsewhere

but then sends for his son
to come on back home to him
but B.B. Riley’s got somewhere

else to go. He gets on his bicycle
and starts pedaling toward Indianola
to the corner of Second and Church

but before Riley gets there
his bicycle becomes a tractor
and he drives up and down

the rows of cotton plants
growing green and then white
in fields where work songs resound.

On his bicycle Riley B.B.Blues
Boy King is practicing guitar
in a dilapidated sharecropper shack

and B.B. becomes the blues on Beale
Street for you and me and he’s
a boy who’s growing into The Man

and he rides his bicycle toward
Indianola where he wants to go
and look inside jukes and clubs

where the blues bands and blues cats
play and Riley can hear his song
coming right toward him

and the bicycle becomes a tractor
that pulls a bus with a big band
coming down Highways 61 and 82

toward you and your town your
Kilmichael your Itta Bena your
Indianaola. B.B. pedals toward

a museum that’s got his name
on the marquee and B.B. don’t
stop pedaling toward what he’s

gonna become because he got heart
he got rhythm he knows he got love
to give he’s gonna go and get back

and when he gets off his bike at Second
and Church he gonna play for you whether
you white or black or red or brown

because he got vibrato in his handlebars
he done found his sweet Lucille who
comes with him wherever he goes

and every string his fingertips press
gives off a feeling comes from the shack
and the fields and all the people

who felt the blues and rode it
toward Second and Church Streets
on a Saturday night where the music

lives in a Club called Ebony Riley’s
gonna buy to keep the blues alive
for every boy and girl and you and me.

~ ~ ~

Norbert Krapf returned to his native Indiana in 2004 after 34 years of teaching at Long Island University. Since his return, he has published six books and a jazz and poetry CD with Monika Herzig. The most recent books are Songs in Sepia and Black and White (2012) and Bloodroot: Indiana Poems (2008), both from Indiana Univ. Pr.; a prose memoir about his southern Indiana childhood, The Ripest Moments (Indiana Historical Society Press 2008); and Sweet Sister Moon (WordTech Editions, 2009), celebrations of women. He is finishing a Creative Renewal Fellowship from the Arts Council of Indianapolis to combine poetry and music, with an emphasis on the blues.