Leadbelly

“There ain’t no doctor, in all the lan’
Can cure the fever of a convict man”

-Huddie William Leadbetter, Midnight Special

Well you wake up every mornin’
and you hear the ding-dong ring;
go marchin’ to the table
and see the same damn thing:
all on the same ole table
a knife, a fork, and pan
like a branch of pomegranates
beyond Tantalus’ hands.

As they make you sit and eat it,
you know he felt this way
when he reached up for them boughs
and they kept pullin’ away;
or when he tried to drink the water
always just below his chin,
cause y’all both can’t pick your food
when your stomach’s rumblin’.

It’s the hunger, not the eatin’,
that gets in a convict’s guts
and keeps’em aching for the limbs
or some finger-lickin’ stuff;
like the apple up in Eden
or the gall up on the Cross,
or the feast set for divinities
that busted Tanatalus.

That’s the closest man has gotten
to gettin’ even with the gods
for givin’ us the appetites
a lifetime couldn’t calm.
When that king served human flesh,
those gods tasted the meat
of the convict men of earth
whose hunger feeds the deities.

So they cursed him to be hungry
in his lush infernal grove,
and even though he’ll ache forever
it ain’t much different here above.
‘Cause we all eat prison grub,
hungry for what’s cooked beyond
where you never feel them pangs
that keep you calling out to god.

Like when Rosie come to see you
in the heat of last July,
how she snuck you a little coffee,
and a slice of her sweet pie.
But she couldn’t bring you nuthin’
to calm your belly none;
gave you damn near everythin’
‘cept that jailhouse key you want.

So every night you finish dinner,
shuffle back into your cell.
The lights go out and you lay down,
wondrin’ what they serve in hell.
Then you hear that well-known rumble,
like the one from your insides,
and the train that comes at midnight
turns the corner, lit up bright.

The light becomes a pomegranate
hung above the lake of night
and you’re Tantalus for a moment
as you reach to take a bite.
But the fruit just fades away
and the pond sinks at your feet
and you fall asleep another night,
hungry for eternity.

But let the Midnight Special
shine her light on me
like the fruit the gods hold up
that makes them live in my belly.

***

Born and raised in New Orleans, Chris Hannan is a 2004 graduate of the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts where he received a bachelor of arts in the Classics, and a 2008 graduate of the the Loyola University, New Orleans, College of Law, where he served as Editor-in-Chief of the Loyola Law Review.  His poetry has appeared in the Magnolia Quarterly, The Classical Outlook, Towncreek Poetry, The Southern Poetry Anthology, and is forthcoming in The Texas Review and The Connecticut Review.  He was awarded First Prize in the 2004 Gulf Coast Writers’ Association’s annual Let’s Write contest for his poem “Pointing to the Brain,” and was the runner-up in the 2010 Faulkner-Wisdom Poetry Competition for his poem “Epithalamion.”   Most recently, Chris won the Grand Prize in the 2012 Tennessee Williams Festival Poetry Contest for his cycle of poems entitled “The Nephilim.”

Chris is currently an attorney in the New Orleans offices of Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell and Berkowitz.  He and his wife Emily live in Mid-City, New Orleans, with their son Jack William and two cats.

Chris is the author of Elephant Graves, also included in the fourth issue of Sliver of Stone.

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