Post Road Magazine #27

Arnold Schultz Tells the Hug-eyed Boy

J. Camp Brown
Nothing gives a farmhand keener pleasure than to have a nigger stick his head through a canvas sheet and allow him to throw a baseball at it. It would be too much to ask a farmer to keep a nigger for this purpose, but the territory could be divided into districts, with a nigger to each, so that he could get around to each farm once every week or so.
"Keep the Young Man on the Farm," Cornfield Philosophy, 1902

1. of Origins
Earned this guitar
  with one baseball
and a canvas sheet—

slit in the center
  stick my head through.
Traded my blood

and a tooth or two
  with a Christian County
face-shucker

thought this box
  worth only fifteen throws.
He could stick

a hardball like God's finger,
  right in the silk
and peel your husk

back near to bone.
  Boy went pro. His last throw
slurred me down

and he dropped the guitar, said
  Look at this twisted minstrel,
this swole-up nigger

in redface
  his head outlined
by the sun.

The guitar hummed,
  perfectly pitched to
the ringing in my ears.

See the headstock?
  No name,
just a star inside a moon

like names ain't no part.
  Girls call you hug-eyed? You
a cross-eyed cracker

motherfucker. Now you buttered
  in blues? Or a river of red
inside you? Spew that. Spit it. Sing.

2. of Getting By
Pawned my guitar
  for three weeks' rent.
Made a songbow

from a sourwood limb.
  Strung it with
cotton twine.

Didn't have no beeswax,
  I'd lick the string and stick
the limb's end in my mouth.

You ever had a tree
  sing in your mouth?
Your teeth been a bridge?

You ever eaten a banana peel
  from a slagheap
behind a whorehouse?

I carved a cornstalk fiddle
  and a limberjack doll.
But no, I never shot nobody.

Thought I might have to once—
  outside Decaturville, Decatur County.
From a tree in the colored cemetery,

a girl hung cut open from her heart down,
  baby dangling by umbilical cord.
And a man I always took to be

her daddy was sitting there
  with a flintlock. Lord,
I skedaddled, this guitar

in one hand, pistol the other.
  Thing was, that baby wadn't
no color. 'Cept gunmetal.

3. of the Boy's Own Birth
Bill, you was conceived in January
  when wives, toes cold
as hammers, want warmth.

Born the night of a corn shuckin
  under Jupiter and moonshine—
a half gallon of it buried in the barn.

You ain't never seen such a shuckin,
  husks like feathers at a cock fight.
Everyone found a red ear and got kissed.

I watched until midnight and started
  bottleneckin the guitar.
Even the teetotalers were tottering

by the time your father Buck-and-Winged
  through the door. Boy,
you were announced near dawn.

Your Father said Another Soul of Scotland
  Man of Roe, God willin, my last.
Bell-mouthed foxhounds

in the far-off pines
  up Jerusalem Ridge!
Malissa won't be taking visitors

for a bit and the rumors fluttered
  a boy with two sets of teeth,
clawhammer hands, people even

looking at me and whispering. Ha!
  Be glad you just cross-eyed.
I'm a black man with no headstone

never own no earth. But you're born
  with soil-filled bowels and a seed
bedded in your lung.

*Arnold Schultz was an unrecorded, yet influential, guitarist who developed a thumb-picking style commonly called Travis-picking, after Merle Travis. When Bill Monroe, the father of bluegrass music, was a boy, Arnold Schultz hired Monroe to play backup at barn dances.
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