Sonny Boy Williamson I
Follow the Mississippi. North to St. Louis.
North to Chicago. Like a Sonny Boy
with his harmonicas, they said,
to blow the blues, like a wild cow moan,
like a little school girl, like a sugar mama
going solo, never been done,
not Hammie Nixon, not Noah Lewis,
not Will Shade and his jug band
scraping washboard, trap and string bass,
North like a blue bird, like a hoodoo-hoodoo,
like a whiskey-headed woman
shaking her boogie early in the morning,
Rice Miller pinching his name and his fame,
cupping his note like a crying child,
chasing him right out of Helena,
the original Sonny Boy, Sonny Boy I,
best harp of his generation,
100 tracks and 125 in session,
stabbed 17 times in the head with an ice pick
on the South Side, money in his pockets,
in the shadow of a doorway.
Clifford Bernier is the author of The Silent Art (Gival Press, 2011) and two chapbooks, Earth Suite (Finishing Line Press, 2010), and Dark Berries (Pudding House, 2010). He is featured on the CDs Poetry in Black and White (2006), Jazzpoetry: Live at IOTA Club and Cafe (2004), and Jazzpoetry: Live at Bistro Europa (2004). Bernier is the former host of the Poesis Reading Series in Arlington, VA.