For Robert Johnson
The King of the Delta Blues
The hellhounds always trailed him –
for that’s the drift of legends.
Fuelling spooks with shots
of malt, he wailed out blues
across the Delta.
Between us now the record
crackles bleakly, his scratchy voice,
a conjured ghost, sings clear
as barrelhouse belles who fleeced him
strut across my sight.
In the rattling dives he played
to write-offs, whores and gamblers
I love that simmering dark,
yet more than this
admire his need for style –
the months he spent alone
trying out a bottle neck
until, in a few brief takes,
the chords sliding down his frets
were a train’s thunder on tracks.