Running out of Road (Angola)

At twenty / in a foreign country (alone). Held at gunpoint / in a mirrored room. Surveilled, you might say, in a hall of mirrors, and left to languish. The terrors. One phone call… Of Parchman Farm / gays and rednecks in Nashville. (Respect). And the blues there / and elsewhere. (Kokomo Arnold‘s ‘Sissy Man Blues’). But no-one wants to hear these stories. Gauche / inappropriate. They stop me, frowning… again. He told, like Silas Hogan, of rats and roaches in his kitchen. I can hear their speech clearly, the old singers, can distinguish area and accent, in Mississippi, Tennessee, Texas (Robert Belfour, Lightnin’ Hopkins, even Charlie Patton. This skill deserts me in Louisiana. Silas singing is genius. Silas speaking, beyond me. In Angola (how many more times do I have to tell you?) the prisoners were made to change labels on canned food, so that rotten produce, US detritus, extended its sell by date, and could be sold to Latin America by callous companies. (Deprivation privatized at Louisiana’s state penitentiary. Despoiled / the oil in the Gulf. Different toxicities.) So many levels. Robert Pete, Big Joe… hoboes are contested. Robert Pete, modal, says no. Booker White had been one himself, and so all welcome. Big Joe …like many things about the maverick, cantankerous master and talent scout, most facts are in dispute, but, at his best, as good as it gets. And how far does it get? We are, it seems, running out of road. (See, perhaps, Beasts of the Southern Wild – that mesmeric child). On my map the road stops at Angola.



 Stephen C. Middleton




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