Ghost Riders in the Sky

When work disappears
In the cruel back beat of July
And all your friends are dead
Not even your mother knows all your names.

The clover chokes in the cracks in the sidewalk
And summer surprises you with jackhammers and tulips
And someone outside the Kroger shakes their head
And says, man, you’ve got a crazy cousin.

On Sunday afternoons when you were a kid your mother would fry chicken
For the whole family and be drunk by five o’clock.
The children would take their fear into the dust out back
Down by where the weeds and the water end until it got dark.

Your aunt gets up to leave when your crazy cousin
Comes out of the closet, says
Hello, I’m Johnny Cash
Bringing the footprints, the ribs, the scabbed over idea of women

To a world without women.
Always remember where you came from.
Fried okra and tomatoes, the color comics
splayed on the floor and the sports page full

Of Ahmad Jones, Abraham Lincoln High School’s light hitting
Slick fielding shortstop, who calls himself the A Train
Wears dreds and keeps a toothpick in his mouth
Even when he’s turning a double play, (much

                                                To the chagrin of his daddy, a race man from way back,
                                                A back room kingmaker without portfolio who
                                                Did two tours in the Navy in Nam, flogging
                                                Gun boats up and down the Mekong river and once
                                                Got shot by a cracker at a civil rights rally and has a soft
                                                As a baby’s butt camel hair overcoat and a sweet rack
                                                Of snap brim fedoras)

Is one badass nigger, with the solid rumor
Of a wicked crossover dribble, which is hard
To verify since he’s the only one who’s transferred to Lincoln.

            He hangs with a jug band
            Guys with low spark and high heeled nerves
            That jangle elegant down the alley
            In London Fog trench coats and long black veils.

In the lean years he would never forget his father telling him
Always keep your wits and your papers with you
In the occupied zones and border towns
Where a Mardi Gras of uniforms scrubs each new crack
In control and authority. Your mother never lets him go

Upstairs, where your crazy cousin learned about love
From his older sister, shadow dancing
In the back of Eddie Wilson’s father’s Chevy

Singing sin softly to him from beneath callow
Eddie’s furious cheeks, pale
Beneath the moon when they left the top down.

R. D. Girard | Mudlark No. 21
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