prompt: please, title: assumed names in misc. flash fiction

  • Dec. 28, 2022, 7:36 p.m.
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  • Public

I cannot speculate as to whether Robert Johnson had a deal with The Devil. Those extraordinary successes and spectacular failures who die young certainly seem to have done as such but there’s a danger in assuming an artist’s work autobiographical. “The Cross-Road Blues” could’ve well been about the rumours of another blues guitarist, Tommy Johnson, selling his soul for prowess. They were no relation, of course, the shared name just a lingering mark of our American devilry called the slave trade. Johnson was a common surname for slave-owners on The Delta, so those emancipated families they’d once owned wore their names and their descendants as well. It may not have been about Christianity’s Devil, rather the trickster Papa Legba whose domain was the cross-roads, an African faith hiding beneath the slavers’ forced conversions to Protestantism. It could’ve just been a metaphor for a moment where he considered rejecting the loneliness of an itinerant musician’s life in pursuit of lost love. We want to think subtext in art is some modern invention, as that makes us feel all educated and evolved-like, but it simply isn’t the case.

The Devil isn’t the only one you may meet at the crossroads. You can see Legba there, Yahweh, Coyote, anyone. Circuit-riders, old lovers, confidence-men, butchers, bakers, candlestick makers, anyone. The crossroads as an in-between place, a liminal space we all must pass through heading elsewise. All are welcome but no one’s welcome to stay long. Placeless place and timeless time, the rules of where you came from or where you’re going, suspended until you’ve finally arrived.

So too, that gap between Christmas and New Years in America, for some. In many fields, if you must work at all, you may not have much to do, could just be clocking in to fill your post in case something happens to happen. You may have that whole run of days free, marked only by which minor college football bowl game, watched only by the most degenerate gamblers. happens to be on teevee. The days of the week suspended, left to do as you please, unfocused by anything other than considering resolutions for whenever time starts up again.

A handful of time to wander and consider what you’d change about yourself. A different singer, Frank Sinatra, bragged about how few regrets he had, but that’s damned foolishness. If you lack regrets, you’ve either never really lived, never known consequences for failures or, worst of all, you’ve flat-out never learned anything from your missteps.

I have more regrets than there are stars in the night-skies and during this calendar’s crossroads, I sit with my gods and my devils and, despite the vastness of volume, we count them together. But that’s fine, it’s actually not a bad thing. In regret, there’s also possibility. The possibility to learn from mistakes. The possibility to change and, if I’m incredibly lucky, the possibility to still make some of them right. As a third pop-musician Brian Wilson once sang “Wouldn’t it be nice?”

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