Fattening Frogs For Snakes

Hell Hound on My Trail

for Celia Sinclair

” I got to ke ep movin’
I got to keep movin’ Blues fallin’ down like hail
blues fallin’ down like hail
Umm mmm mmm mmm
blues fallin’ down like hail
blues fallin’ down like hail

And the days keeps on worryin’ me
There’ s a hellhound on my trail
hellhound on my trail
hellhound on my trail”

Just south & west of Greenwood,
”The Cotton Capital of the World,”
where Robert Johnson was staying
with Honey Boy Edwards
in the summer of 1938,

just south & west of Greenwood,
like west over to Itta Bena
& south out of Itta Bena on Highway 7,
just a few miles to a little junction
where a general store was, called Three Forks, Mississippi,

a gentleman out there ran a juke joint
out of his house, in 1938,
out there in the country,
down the fork road from the general store
which is closed down now
but it thrived 50 years ago

as much as anything could thrive
in Mississippi
in 1938—down the fork road
maybe right there by Highway 7
or maybe it was 3 or 4 miles
down the fork road, to where

there’s a little settlement down there
by the riverbank
where they’re building a new bridge now
down at the end of the fork road
where 6 or 7 little houses be at
right next to the river—

somewhere in there on the fork road
close to Three Forks, this man called Ralph
ran a juke joint out of his house
every Saturday night, & peoples came
out there in the country
from all around there, to have their fun,

buy some likker, dance, gamble some,
rub up against each other
for sex or violence, maybe cut
up somebody,
out in the country,
Saturday night,

& the man would have a guitar player
& maybe a harmonica,
maybe two guitars,
from Greenwood
or maybe just passing through,

like Robert Johnson
in the summer of 1938,
every Saturday night
out by Three Forks Robert would play
at the man’s juke joint in the country
& peoples would line up to get in

because Robert was getting very well known
& his records had been coming out steady
for the past year, 78 rpm Vocalions
cut in San Antonio & Dallas,
Texas, starting in November,

”Terraplane Blues,”
”32-20 Blues,” “I Believe I'll
Dust My Broom,” “Cross Road Blues,” “Come On
in My Kitchen,” “Sweet Home Chicago,” “Stones
in My Passway,” “Hellhound
on My Trail,”

these were the records peoples heard
all through Mississippi
& Robert Johnson was a name
to be reckoned with
in the blues world of the Delta
where he had spent all his life

& the ladies would crowd around him
to press their favors upon him,
the mens would enjoy the music
& the womens dancing
& the excitement rising up in the womens,
pressing up into them on the floor

in the juke joint on the fork road,
peoples crowded around
inside the joint & outside,
everything was nice & smooth there
out by Three Forks,
the man was selling his whiskey

& making his money, & Robert
was getting paid real nice,
& then the man’s wife, see,
she got up next to Robert
& she threw her love on him so strong
with some of that real good trim

& she went so far with her infatuation
as to take off from her husband
out there in the country
& go on into Greenwood
to lay up with Robert one or two days
in his room, like a Monday

& a Tuesday, say,
before she go back to Three Forks
& her husband, with some cock
& bull story about what she was doing
over in Greenwood,
her cousint or something,

some kind of lame bullshit excuse
which her husband knew was not right
but he kept his mouth shut, & when Robert
come back out to the juke joint
the next Saturday night, with his mind
stuck dead on that sweet pussy

& the concurrent joys
of a Mississippi Saturday night—
peoples having their fun in the woods,
whiskey flowing, fish sandwiches,
money changing hands
under the coal-oil lanterns in the dark—

the girl’s husband slipped Robert
his usual bottle of spirits
to get the night started, but only this time
he put some shit in the game
& dropped in a few shots of poison
to fix this cocky motherfucker

who thought he could take the man’s wife
& use her as he pleased,
with his jive-ass guitar & shit,
his little bullshit records out
& that bitch on his dick, the man’s wife,

the man burned up inside
every time he saw the pictures in his mind,
the bitch be pleasing Robert
& probably be giving the motherfucker
the man’s hard-earned money too,
and the pussy,

he would fix Robert Johnson’s ass
& he would call himself doing a favor
for the legion of endangered husbands
whose ladies were lined up by the stand
trying to mash some stuff on Robert,
the dirty rotten motherfucker,

he had to go,
his time was come, & if he wasn't
but only 27 years old
it was still time to go
said the man with the poison
& he put it in with the whiskey

& had the bottle given to Robert
& Robert drank from it, took a few swallows
to start the night off right,
& while Robert played his first set
the poison was eating away at him
& death was inside of him

before he knew it, he was coughing
& gagging, & shivering
on a hot night, he fell to the ground
outside the juke joint
& couldn’t go back on the stand,
he couldn’t stand up,

he could see that hell hound
that he had that song about,
hell hound on my trail,
got to keep moving,

but he couldn't move his hand
or get up off the ground,

Robert Johnson,
he couldn’t get up to move,
he laid there on the ground,
poison eating away his life, looking up
into the drooling jaws
of the dreadful hell hound

standing dead up over him,
blood dripping from its eyes,
its foul breath in his face—
Robert Johnson
on his way to the spirit world,
catch that Greyhound bus & gone

— Whitfield Baptist Church,
Tutwiler, Mississippi
July 16, 1987/
July 22 - August 5, 1987/
New Orleans
December 11, 1995