Letter Written on a Hundred Dollar Bill
—To Howlin’ Wolf, from Mississippi
Did your right hand itch when I transcribed your O don’t you hear me cryin? phrase I’d pay a hundred dollars to raise my voice into, cause you got money for sure, not like Son House in the nightclub film, drunk as a goat glutted with rotten apples and waving a sawbuck like a flag, but stacking up in a New York office like a locomotive’s chimney if I keep this going and then I imagine raining down into the world below or uncurling on a magnolia only you know how to find, my hundred plucked, still crisp, then rolled up in your pocket as you walk again from White Station and West Point to Grenada, Ruleville, Rosedale with a guitar on your back, where you meet Charley Patton again. You pull out the bankroll and count off a Cadillac so y’all can cruise to Memphis, St. Louis, Chicago, unpack at the 708 or Silvio’s and maybe House is already there at the bar, rediscovered and thirsty for oblivion, when Sumlin walks in with Dixon and you’re ready to pitch it again, and the microphones are humming so you can invent rock-and-roll or whatever it is Eric Clapton tries to play in that London session when you take over, showing him that music is a kind of language, you just say this, you just call roosters and cats and airplane pilots into the club, the whole Wang Dang Doodle of the afterlife catching your notes like undampered pianos and sounding long after you’ve gone down the blue highways back to Jackson, Nashville, Lebanon where your girl stands in the door of the house you kept together as peaceful and bright as the day you met, you’re gathering everyone you know and rolling down to Natchez where the fire hasn’t ashed the Rhythm Club and the whole town’s waiting for you to take the stage, maybe costumed like an engineer or busking like a janitor, the mic taped to a broom handle, the sheet-metal walls shaking when you let out your O, O there is no sound like this in the world above except the one you engraved in the great disc of the night that spins above us, through the hole of which every C-note floats to bud from that one magnolia somewhere in east Mississippi where this sound was born. When you walk down the dirt roads each night, when you pull your hands from your pockets, the lint turns everything first-Spring green, and when you open your song you light the underworld with a throat and a mouth full of gold.