Not Guilty By David Rivard

The days are dog-eared, the edges torn,   
ragged—like those pages   
I ripped once out of library books,

for their photos
of Vallejo and bootless Robert Johnson.   
A fine needs paying now

it’s true, but   
not by me.
I am no more guilty

than that thrush is
who sits there stripping moss   
off the wet bark of a tree.

A red fleck, like his, glows
at the back of my head—a beauty mark,   
left by the brain’s after-jets.

I would not wish for the three brains   
Robert required
to double-clutch his guitar

and chase those sounds he had to know   
led down
and into a troubled dusky river, always.

Three brains did Johnson no earthly good,   
neither his nor Vallejo’s 4 & 1/2
worked right exactly—O bunglers,

O banged-up pans of disaster!
Crying for days, said Cesar, & singing for months.   
How can I be so strong some times,

at others weak? I wish to be free,
but free to do what? To leave myself behind?   
To switch channels remotely?

Better to sing.
Not like the bird, but as they sang,   
Cesar & Robert—

with the shocked & seeded   
sweetness of an apple
split open by a meat cleaver.
David Rivard, “Not Guilty” from Bewitched Playground. Copyright © 2000 by David Rivard. Reprinted with the permission of Graywolf Press, St. Paul, Minnesota, www.graywolfpress.org.

Source: Bewitched Playground (Graywolf Press, 2000)

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