Returning downhearted to the hospital
parking ramp, I start the car, and
the CD I was playing earlier,
Mississippi John Hurt’s Today!, comes on
again — Make me a pallet down soft and
low, make me a pallet on your floor.
What was it about John that was so
nourishing, even healing to us
traumatized white kids in the Sixties?
In a moment of frightening, turbo-
charged change bearing down on us and our world,
his voice offered what we longed for but
which the adult life we were growing into
withheld — an earthy warmth, a human
eros, a dignity, a kindness.
I suppose that’s why I still pull John Hurt
off the shelf when I’m feeling empty and
forlorn, as I do after this hospital
visit. Now I’m feeding the ticket and bills
into the pay station lit and tinseled
for Christmas. There happens to be an actual
person in the booth, and exiting I turn
to wave. An older black man waves back,
his round face and heavy-lidded eyes looking
uncannily like those of Mississippi John.
I know I must take this as an omen.
—Thomas R. Smith