1. About the Dead Man and Road Songs

The dead man has been everywhere, man.
He walks along the shoulder, holding out his thumb.
From the Yucatan to the Yukon, and the left shoulder to the right,
the dead man has seen it all.
On Saturdays, the dead man goes honky tonkin’.
They write songs about him and call him
‘Stranger’ in Texas and ‘Buddy’ in Tennessee.
He hopes to pull the tire jack from the stone and become the king of the road.
When Jesus left Chicago, the dead man followed hoping to elude
the hellhound on his trail.
The dead man still carries the old guitar he found at a crossroads in Mississippi.
He tries to play like Robert Johnson but comes off sounding like Elvis.
He’s met them both out on the highways and told them he was following the Dead.
That was a joke, though, and he thinks they knew it.
In Luckenbach, he joined other dead men and they sang songs by Willie,
Waylon & the boys until dawn when the Sheriff arrived.
The dead man let love slip away somewhere near Salinas
and hoped to reach Amarillo by morning.
He got off the L.A. freeway without getting killed or caught.
He is on the road again, chalking up many a mile.
He’s walked through every road song worth singing, a long strange trip indeed.
Yes, the dead man has been everywhere, man.

2. More About the Dead Man and Road Songs

The dead man prays for all the roadkilled animals at least once a day.
He started doing this a long time ago, and it’s become his habit.
The dead man bums a smoke when he can, another habit.
He has seen (and sometimes set with a careless flick of the butt)
summer wildfires that scorch the median.
Coming around again in springtime, he’s seen the wildflowers
growing best where the roadside had burned.
This makes him feel important.
In the summertime he sleeps among the roadside prairie grasses,
and he huddles under bridges in winter.
Someday, the dead man will get where he’s going.
He hopes he’ll know it when he gets there.
But the dead man has been on the highway for years.
You have seen the dead man, and you kept on driving.
He doesn’t mind, though, loneliness and solitude are his beans and beer.
The dead man understands this is how songs are made, where they come from.
These are the dead man’s wandering years, and he is in no hurry.

This is a response to the Big Tent Poetry prompt to write a dead man poem using the form invented by Marvin Bell, which is based on the Zen admonition to “live as if you were already dead.” I started writing sentences and soon I realized that the dead man was a highway wanderer and that there were lots of songs about him.

Many of the lines in Part 1 either refer to or are borrowed directly from songs by Geoff Mack, Hank Williams, Roger Miller, ZZ Top, Robert Johnson, Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson, George Strait, Guy Clark, Willie Nelson, Jimmy Buffett, and the Grateful Dead.

Mad props to Dave Bonta for his post about formatting poetry in WordPress, which gave me the answer to indenting long lines, something I rarely use.

Go here to read more dead man poems.