The year of the blues

Congress has proclaimed this the "Year of the Blues," and the following is a depiction of how an aging blues singer on the Mississippi Delta might express modern-day concerns.

An old black woman is sitting on the rocking chair of her front porch. The sun is still hot this time of year in the Mississippi Delta, and the air feels like one of those wet dishrags you could wring out forever without it ever getting dry. There’s a highway not that far from her ramshackle house and the sound of the cars roaring by no longer bothers her. In fact, as she says, "it seems quite restful, chile."

Her name is Aunt Sarah. At first glance, it looks as if Aunt Sarah is sleeping, mumbling sometimes fitfully in that sleep. But lean real close and you’ll realize Aunt Sarah is holding court and we are her audience.

"I hears the folks in Washington done made this the ‘Year of the Blues’ … (she chuckles) … Seem like the blues don’t need no special year, chile. The blues is always with us … don’t need one of them special post-office stamps either. But if they was gonna make a year for the blues, then this would be a good one." (She coughs one of those deep, mucous-filled coughs.)

"Lord, the blues been around since Adam and Eve messed up and got throw outta the Garden. I kind of favors Mississippi John Hurt, but that Chicago boy Muddy Waters ain’t so bad either. Colored folks have known about the blues ever since they first walked this earth, but white folks have woke up to it too … because blues don’t know no color, children … Blues is the soil from which life sprung.

"Folks think I don’t know much about the world anymore and they right. Not much I want to know about anymore. My eyes ain’t so good and neither is my hearin’, but I still knows the sound of sufferin’. I knows enough to know the man in Washington is a good man. I like a president that can quote scripture. That chile knows his Bible. I know his heart is good. But that don’t mean he can’t make mistakes, darlin’ — serious errors in judgment.

"He’s tryin’ to fight the evil, that he is. And this ain’t no ordinary evil — you can’t buy this evil with money or reason with it, darlin.’ That’s what makes it so dangerous. He’s got hisself in a bind in this Iraq. Now that Saddam is done been chased out of his palaces and is hiding in some cave where he belonged in the first place, more evil is just pourin’ into that po’ country. And the folks that’s supposed to be free now, alls they know is they still don’t have ‘lectricity or water. And I’ll tell you, chile, all the freedom in the world ain’t worth some ‘lectricity and a cup of cool water. So the evil has done smelled the unhappiness and it’s movin’ in like leaches on a fresh sore. And the president has stretched hisself thinner than Ally McBeal." (She pauses and scrunches up her wizened face, her skin the color of weathered tobacco.)

"You gonna think I’m crazy when I tell you what this reminds me of — I’m talkin’ about our boys in Iraq on duty while the evil is pourin’ in from every border. It reminds me of what my mammy tole me about Gen’l Custer. Now there was a prideful man. Headed right into that ambush knowin’ full well that there were all those angry Indians aroun’. Only Custer, he thought he couldn’t die like an ordinary man. Thought maybe the Lord had singled him out and made him a God.

"Well, the president is a good man, but he’s prideful. And he keeps seein’ that light at the end of the tunnel, exceptin’ the rest of us know it’s a train. And meanwhile our boys are bein’ surrounded by the evil and the president is like Custer, he won’t believe it, so he can’t see it. It ain’t too late to save the situation, but it means puttin’ our money where our big mouth full of speeches is.

"What’s all this have to do with the blues, you’re askin’? It’s because we’re livin’ the blues but we ain’t hearin it. We’re celebratin’ the blues, but we don’t unnerstand how they creep up on you when you least expect it." (She begins to sing softly … )

Got stranded in Baghdad, the evil’s all aroun’
Got stranded in Baghdad, the evil’s all aroun’
Since we won the war, nobody knows I’ m still in town.
Keepin’ the peace is harder than winnin’ the war
Keepin’ the peace is harder than winnin’ the war
‘Cause you still in trouble if po’ folks is still po’

She puts the harmonica back in her apron pocket and goes fast asleep.