Gospel belongs to God and the blues is the Devil’s business, and here the blues takes the form of Son Thomas, whose spare bottleneck slide strips the tradition down to its roots. Son’s been sculpting figures and heads and skulls from clay gathered in the nearby hills for just about as long as he’s been playing the blues, which is to say: all his life.
Watching Bussard listen to records is a spiritually rousing experience. He often appears incapable of physically restraining himself, as if the melody were a call to arms, an incitement it would be immoral if not impossible to ignore: he has to move.
Reverend King and Elvis and Mr. Crump are just our famous ghosts, the public phantoms we share. Like everyone else, Memphians have their own private ghosts. Mine is tall and skinny and bald and wears black glasses—the same ones that are back in style.
Five poems from the spring 2014 issue.
Across the white highway, dogs drift unmoored
Silver-tipped seagrass, but no cactus. An offing
of shopping plazas, their harsh light and low roofs.
That's the way with drought; first dissent,
a worm belief that one place could be another.
I bet it feels good to twist a head of cotton
clean from the stem's fat and browning boll.
I bet it feels good to stand in irrigated rows.
Bill Best, who founded the Sustainable Mountain Agriculture Center, saves seeds—not in the way that people save stamps or coins, but in the way that people save endangered species, or possessions from a fire. He grows and stores about 700 varieties of beans on his farm in Berea, Kentucky, where he lives with Irmgard, his wife of fifty-one years, in a midcentury ranch house she designed, with stone chimneys he built. Some of his seeds are more than 150 years old—one goes back to the American Revolution.
When I was six years old, I shot a man. People think I am joking when I say this, as I do occasionally, if prodded, in a group that wants to talk guns or hunting or the excesses of the rural South. It has been nearly twenty years since I discharged a firearm or spent any time in a deer stand or duck blind, yet I am considered an authority on such matters, since I live among people who are not.