What would Johnny Cash do if he’d had a childhood,
Didn’t phase out on speed and liquor
Or tried to forget
The troubles that percolated in his belly like pots of cowboy coffee?
The large hands slapping him hard,
The same way cow punchers scat ponies
At the matinee in town.
What would Johnny Cash do if he were still alive?
All black cotton on white melamine.
With yellow-tinged heart problems broken open
By the reckless depth that he inhaled each smoke.
Drawing it far enough down to fumigate a compost of ambitions.
Would he be able to watch how
He’d punched and kicked, how he’d
Leaned over the chest of a man that he’d just broken down?
Closing his teeth on the little lift of skin
At the edge of the collar bone
He bit and pulled and found he could bite even harder.
Somehow he got up.
The man still howling.
Hiding in a thicket of blackberries
He was so scared he slid down a long slope of thorns,
Bleeding and weeping under his house
In that place
Between boxed beer and fireflies
Where waking and sleeping
Just might be living and dying.
On each recording he found
It strange to hear the damp cardboard voice recite
Song books of gospel music
Praising Elders who he’d placed just beyond the sanctuary.
Entitled by Vitalis and soaking in sweat
Their pinched necks,
Scarified with fleshy paths of secrecy
What would Johnny Cash do if he were to palm a platter of his life’s work?
Would he know the world was his to use,
To propose to,
To populate with butter soft enemies who died bravely
But not by his hand.
To yield spoiling fruit and seed the heavens with boozy rainfall.
To trace back the stone fitter’s progress,
To engage every pain that record company publicists
Hid from him or invented,
Feigning interest in unusual beasts.