Medicine Show (2)

This entry is part 17 of 34 in the series Breakdown: The Banjo Poems


The folk concept of a dancing crow pre-dates the Jump Jim Crow ministrelsy and has its origins in the old farmer’s practice of soaking corn in whiskey and leaving it out for the crows. The crows eat the corn and become so drunk they cannot fly, but wheel and jump helplessly near the ground where the farmer can kill them with a club. —“Jump Jim Crow,” Wikipedia

While a blackface
musician pays Jump
Jim Crow for
the assembled yokels, oh Lord—
the fake Indian sweating
in a scratchy blanket
holds up a bottle, holds it up:
pale blue universal nostrum of frost
whose patent can stay pending
almost indefinitely.
It’s impossible not to buckdance.
I swear they turn a key
somewhere in my liver
& banjo us with the bright
plink of coins.
This is one church where
we’re all in on the joke
& no one expects the wine
to be anything but whiskey.
A freight hurtles by & we rock
in its sudden wind,
its whistle better
than any pipe organ.
When your baby wails
like that, cracks Indian Bob,
it’s time for a spoonful,
& the banjo man winks & taps
his rawhide belly.
Somewhere John Brown
is plotting treason, & You—
You are with the sparrows,
rapt, watching how
comically they hop.

Backache and Kidney Mixture Number 20

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2 Replies to “Medicine Show (2)”

  1. Excellent, Dave.
    This poem seems very alive to me.
    Loved this line:
    A freight hurtles by & we rock
    in its sudden wind,

    While I was wandering around in California
    in November, a friend and I stopped at a
    bottle shop in a small town.
    The owner was a passionate collector.
    It was a real treat to talk to him.
    He brought out a bottle he had just
    recently acquired – an unusually large one
    of “epilepsy medicine” (most are not
    nearly this size).
    The original purchaser must have had
    quite the case of epilepsy.

    1. Thanks for liking this, Bev. Antique collectors can be interesting characters, can’t they? Like museum curators or rare books librarians, they spend a lot of time in conversation with the convivial dead.

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