The Last Thoughts of Jeff Buckley in Memphis

I have that precious and irreplaceable luxury of failure, of risk, of surrender
                —Jeff Buckley

If something happens to me, then you’ll be free!
And I want you to be free: how does that Presley
Song go? I want to be free, free, free, yeah
Free—I want to be free… like a bird in a tree.
And here by the river alone, by the Mississippi,
There’s one last song I’m gonna wade into. See,
I was raised to sing wherever I was in a house
And now, it seems, I have no house. How does
That Tom Waits song go? Wherever I lay my
Head, that’s where I call home. I say
I have no house, but that’s really a big lie.
I’m renting down here. I can sing in this place,
So maybe I’ll buy. That is, if I don’t die
First. Why so grim, you ask? There’s joy,
I suppose, in my voice somewhere. So they say.

I don’t hear it, myself. And that’s because
I get myself all hung up in the blue, or weigh
Myself down in the freighted churn, heavy currents
That I hope to God will carry me to our unchained redeemer,              
My last thought is... that I had no last thought.
I’m just singing along. Whole lotta love! But… But… 
The Hallelujah is what you can’t put into a poem.
Now I have no house but the waves (the river has waves).
I’ve left no notes: only some sketches for an album
Of tunes that was, I guess, intended to save
Me from going down, or out, or into the hurling rain—
From the pain that I worked so hard to earn.
Where it came from, where I come from, doesn’t concern
You, but please listen to these wild thoughts I’ve hung
On staves, that are fit to garland the graves
Nobody thinks to visit, in places I confess I never
Went to except in a nightmare, and in the posthumous release
            Of this song.


Copyright © 2019 by Don Share. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 18, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

About this Poem

“I’m from Memphis, where the dangerous rush of the Mississippi River—which resonates with the dangerous rush of American history—was never far from my deepest thoughts. But there’s also a rush of song in people, which constitutes a more salutary and personal kind of force. These things came violently together when the musician Jeff Buckley stepped into the river in Memphis; it’s something you just don’t do, unless you’ve chosen to be carried away. In his tragic death, he was, for me, a kind of Orpheus. Maybe in the end, there’s no single rendition, never quite the right words; but where there’s memory and the echoes that live on in song, there’s hope—and if nothing else, at least hope and song survive.”
Don Share