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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)

Poet Bio

David Rivard
David Rivard was born in Fall River, Massachusetts. With his first verse collection, Torque, David Rivard distinguished himself as a writer of volatile poems with striking imagery. In this work Rivard concentrates on the working-class tenor. Fast automobiles, assembly lines, basketball games, and drug users are all developed to tell the stories of childhood, relationships, and life that are prominent in Rivard's work, along with a sense of despair and an awareness of life's hardships. 

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