defining box

by: carolyn c. rice

his father painted the nursery walls
pouring the paint back and forth between two containers to mix it,
dreaming of the six spaces on a baseball diamond where a batter,
the coaches, the pitcher, and the catcher stand,
dreaming of him – striding onto the field, ear deep in hysterical adulation,

except that birthdays came and went
unbatted and ungloved, not even a hope of a home run.
on his fourteenth birthday he clamored for
a guitar, a lipstick-red Rickenbacker as seen on TV –
himself the androgynous wild man on the stage,
adored by hundreds and hundreds of screaming girls.

for Christmas his grandmother gave him an acoustic guitar, which
she said was less destructive to the hearing, and at her house,
after all the turkey and dressing and cranberry sauce and pies,
he unearthed an old record player and some records, among them
a few dusty 78 rpms, miraculously unbroken,
that Grandma said had belonged to her father, and he heard

for the first time
the stuttering guitar and melancholy yowls of
Blind Lemon Jefferson performing Black Snake Moan.
next came Robert Johnson playing slip-sliding chords as thin as
a knife blade, his voice sharper than the broken neck of a whiskey bottle.
Son House, Lonnie Johnson – he played them, all of them, over and over.
he had discovered the blues.

he refused to go to college, instead
working temporary jobs here and there, becoming
an inadvertent expert at topiary – trimming and training shrubs into
dryads and dragons, unicorns and umbrellas.
in summer he drove a carriage all over Charleston,
posing on the driver’s seat for tourists.

he took up travelling over the years, naming
the 32 points of the compass in their order,
his guitar his only companion –
chasing the blues while
his parents’ anniversaries and his
grandmother’s funeral were held without him.

he came at last to his end in an old theater, expiring in
one of the small compartments for spectators, and was moved to
an even smaller compartment under the ground –
just big enough for himself, his guitar – and the blues.


“Defining Box” first appeared in SCWW’s Quill.