CLAYTON L. BIGGS by Henry Edward Fool
I remember Clayton L. Biggs,
a tall black man,
maybe twice the age
of anyone else in that cafe.
He was always dressed in overalls
like a tobacco farmer—
and perhaps that is
what he was.
He would sit in the back,
But, unlike me,
he held his head up.
I thought that per-haps
he was the
sole remaining vessel
of a noble heritage.
In truth I knew that Mr. Biggs
when he left that café,
and didn’t stop until he was back
wherever he had come from
and the door securely bolted.
(Those were the times we were living in.)
I thought he was great.
One time, we occupied a table together.
Or, did I say that once already?
Listen now as Clayton L. Biggs shouts out:
JAZZ-DADDY BROKE DOWN
Once crippled, Jazz-Daddy fell from the sky,
and though his wounds were cool,
Sweet Maybelle, let me tell you,
after he stumbled, he could not play a lick.
(or maybe this you know)
Back-stage, in the darkness between sets,
he sat ’splayed like a spider,
worried his hands as if
he might find something harmful in there.
He said, and this I really quote,
“My fingers is like dry twigs.”
I looked and could see that
what he said was true.
(but you were not there at the time)
They was; just like dry twigs.
His nails were like small yellow leaves
attempting to emerge
long before the winter’s end.
“Just like dry twigs,” he mum-mum-mum-muttered.
And they were, yes they were now.
“You can’t play the guitar with twigs,”
he said bit-bit-bit-bitterly.
And he looked me in the eye,
as if it might be my fault.
Then he saw you, Maybelle,
comin’ through the darkened door,
and I was relegated
to the position
of someone no longer worthy
of the man’s spite.
“Oh, hey, My Dear Sweet Destiny,
come climb up on your Daddy’s knee!”
He forgot all about the dry twigs.
And, too, forgot about me.
(which would make sense to any man)
He smiled like lit from within.
A jack-o-lantern of a toothless old man,
carved deeply into his reddening face.
And, of course I know what that’s like.
Until you picked me up, your fingers traced my jawline, your cool palms sweetened my weary brow with the
sugar of their touch...until your eyes covered my face with honey and the lilt of your voice coolly kissed my
my very heart was made of twigs.
My heart was like an old bird’s nest.
Until you picked me up.
“You are a sight for sore eyes.”
And indeed you we-we-we-were.
Always, happily, have been.
Always will be too.
“Sight for sore eyes,”
he said as though you were a gift just for him,
and wrapped his lanky arms around you.
I love the way your neck curves into whatever else remains down there; I really didn’t care; sometimes a
flowery dress, sometimes who knows what—my eyes are trapped upon your face.
Stunned creature I w-w-w-was.
The twigs in my chest rattled as his old dry fingers pulled you close. I knew the emptiness of the nest of my
heart when he laid his face against your breast and took in the warmth of your presence. Your feel, your
fragrance; things I once knew; things I dream of still.
Then someone shouted, “Time to go back out there,”
and he went back out on stage
where the clatter of the crowd
would shore up his ancient riffs. (with compassionate ears)
“You comin’, Shorty?” Skeetz asked me
the curtain in one hand, his horn in the other.
“I’ll be there…”
“Hello there, Shorty,” you said, your eyes like a doe. My eyes, these eyes of mine, dazzled by the
headlights of on-coming, impending, unavoidable, doom.
At times like this I stammer.
“You look real n-n-n-nice, M-M-M-Maybelle.” I said.
“Well, thank you, Shorty.”
The image of you straightening your hair, back stage; brushing away the wrinkles in your skirt remain to
me a haunting thing.
. . .
Clayton L. Biggs
hands hanging at his side
as if completely drained
And we would wait.
If we knew the man,
If we were LUCKY enough to have heard him recite before,
we would wait,
in eager silence.
After a while he would sigh and shuffle a bit and you could see that he was in anguish, you could see that
something was building inside him. Then, he would burst into a plaintive plea:
Who among us is so blind that he can not see the coming of the Lord? And who so foolish, that seeing,
continues to ignore His coming? But we are like sheep who flee at the sound of their shepherd’s footfall, for
we know that when he comes, he brings justice. We glut ourselves and gambol and fornicate with one eye
on the horizon, fearing His return. Don’t we now?
“Wow!” someone idiot in the audience would always shout.
“You tell ‘em Clayton!” someone else would mumble quietly.
There would be a general mumbling agreement in the room.
Clayton L. Biggs would stare out into the darkness that was his audience and sigh.
Then he would shudder a bit and taking a deep breath, continue.
(And, oh man, we were ready…we were like children eager to accept correction.)
He comes nonetheless. Yes, he most certainly does. He arrives in anguish, soaked in the tears of regret
for what we have done. Yet he comes. Our ears detect his approach while our hearts choose deafness. He
brings in one hand compassion, and in the other he carries not but cold justice. Don’t He now?
The flock is scattered and mingled with wolves; stiff-necked and proud. Yet will we feel betrayed when we
see the light from the keen edge he carries? And where then will we run? And how long do we think we can
Exhausted, this man in overalls
would clump down off the stage
and go directly out the back door
without looking back.
I thanked his God for the privilege of hearin’ him read.
In those days
I had to ask myself this::
What is this creature, seeing only in black and white, driven to leave his mark, infused with unassailable
ego, steeped in private bitterness, whose response to every situation is violent, whose stance alone is a
challenge, whose cold eye fixes on everything before him in warning, and leaves everything in his wake in
ruin and who—despite his tearful public confession—has no real fear of God?
At the time, I thought that was a pretty good imitation
At the time I thought it was a good question.
And, I thought I knew the answer.
I’m not so sure any more.
That’s what time does to us.
That, and this ridiculous waddle.