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A Quarterly Journal
Jeffrey Woodward, Founder & Owner
Ray Rasmussen, General Editor

Volume 12, Number 4, December 2018
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John Zheng
Itta Bena, Mississippi, USA


Mississippi John Hurt

1. Relocation

On September 15, 1963, Louisa, a white lady whose husband managed Mississippi John Hurt's recordings, and Rosalee, who was Louisa's home help, drove John's wife, Jessie, and their two grandchildren out of Avalon, Mississippi. The plan was to join John in D.C. And Avalon, through John’s soft eyes, had been an asshole of the world.

yin and yang
a duality
of oneness
      night and day
      balancing black and white

They headed north to Memphis, wishing to avoid Alabama on their journey, because a local in Birmingham told them that white and black women were not allowed to travel in the same vehicle.

southern dusk
storm clouds gathering
over cotton fields
      after the thunder
      a bright moon

That same day in Birmingham, four little black girls attending Sunday school were killed by a bomb attack.

in an evening sky
rapid movements
of gray clouds
      now a clan of lions
      now a shiver of sharks

John's wife and their grandkids managed to arrive safely in D.C., then John reunited with them after his performance tour. The Hurts moved into an apartment that was clean and roomy, but their neighborhood was infested with drugs, rapes, murders, and robberies. Unable to feel at home, they pined for the asshole of Mississippi.

life is life
part daydream
part nightmare
      in a dim bar
      a man strums his guitar

2. Memento

Mississippi John Hurt used to cut crossties with his axe for the railroad back in Avalon. That axe had been his old friend. Without it beside him any longer, his new life in the crime-ridden inner city of D.C. became filled with anxiety.

summer night
the sirens grow louder
and louder
      he looks out at the street
      strangely quiet now

When someone shipped the axe to him, John treated it as a reminder of his past experience in Mississippi. With the axe in his hands, he felt a sense of fulfillment even though he could not regain the energy to split logs for firewood.

in the dark
the couple reminisces
about the old days
      chirping crickets
      sparkling stars


Author's Note: Biographical information about country blues singer and guitarist John Hurt can be found online.

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