Poetry Club, day 10

I have a chapter in The Joy of Poetry about poems as songs. This was one I got permission for, but it was a little steep. J. Patrick Lewis has been the children’s poet laureate, and a lot of his poems convey history.

If you don’t know the legend of blues guitarist Robert Johnson, who sold his soul to the devil at the crossroads in exchange for the ability to play guitar, well, here it is as a poem. It’s one long quotation, with the devil talking to Mister Johnson.


At the Crossroad, Highways 61 and 49


“Mister Johnson

I see you look to buyin’

Mister Johnson

That all you want is Fame?

Mister Johnson

Now what you got to offer?

Mister Johnson

Salvation is my name

With a rhythm on a riff

That’s practically God

Oh Lord, I’m a pure

Undivining rod

I’m a flickerin’ candle

With the blackest light

I’m the darkest angel

And I own the night

Mister Johnson

That instrument you got there

Mister Johnson

It’s Lucifer’s guitar

Mister Johnson

I’ll tune it for you, baby

Mister Johnson

They won’t know who you are

I’m a cutthroat seller,

The Magician of Deal

Who can stoke sweet fire

That’ll make you feel

Like a hothouse flower

On double defrost

Who won’t give a nickel

For the petals it lost

Mister Johnson

You slink on back to livin’

Mister Johnson

In devil-may-care control

Mister Johnson

Don’t thank me for the favor

Mister Johnson

I thank you for your soul”


~ J. Patrick Lewis


Your turn.


  1. I hear this as a song, as hip-hop. The repetition of the buyer’s name suggests (to me) that the seller knows how much the man likes hearing it, and isn’t this what the cry for fame is, name recognition? A warning to artists of every ilk.