Published on Academy of American Poets (https://poets.org)


Accidental Blues Voice

My ex-lover received it at seventeen
skiing the steep slope at Wintergreen called

Devil’s Elbow. The early snowmelt along the Blue
Ridge had slipped the white limb of a birch

through the crust, jutted that camouflaged tip
into the center of the trail. He hit it, full speed,

flipped over his ski poles. One of them split
his vocal cords with its aluminum point. He sprawled

in the snow, his pink throat skewered like Saint
Sebastian or the raw quiver of his Greek father’s

peppered lamb kebobs. The doctors didn’t let him speak
for a year and when he finally tried his choirboy

voice had gravel in it. His tenor had a bloody
birch limb in it, had a knife in it, had a whole lower

octave clotted in it, had a wound and a wound’s
cracked whisper in it. The first time I heard him 

sing in his blues band, five years after the accident,
I told him his smoked rasp sounded

exactly like Tom Waits. Like my grandfather
sixty years since the iron lung. I couldn’t believe

a growl like that crawled up from the lips
of a former Catholic schoolboy. But as he shut off

the halogen overhead—leaving only the ultraviolet
of his bedside’s black light—he stroked my cheek,

crooned, Goodnight, Irene. His teeth and his throat’s
three-inch scar glowed a green neon.

Credit


Copyright © 2016 Anna Journey. Used with permission of the author.

About this Poem


“Back when I lived in Richmond, Virginia, I knew a guy, in his mid-twenties, who sang in several bands and had the extraordinary voice of an ancient blues man. The strange thing was: he wasn’t born with that rough and raspy voice. He acquired it suddenly, and by accident.”
—Anna Journey

Author


Anna Journey

Anna Journey is the author of the poetry collections Vulgar Remedies (Louisiana State University Press, 2013) and If Birds Gather Your Hair for Nesting (University of Georgia Press, 2009), which was selected by Thomas Lux for the National Poetry Series. She has received fellowships from Yaddo and from the National Endowment for the Arts. She is an assistant professor of English at the University of Southern California. 

Date Published: 2016-02-02

Source URL: https://poets.org/poem/accidental-blues-voice