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FEATURES -- So Many Roads:  Poetry by George Kalamaras


George Kalamaras

The Best Unknown Guitarist in the World

                                     for Roy Buchanan

Roy Buchanan color

                  It’s starting again, Roy, the lump in my throat, the tightening noose of a bed

      sheet in a Virginia jail.

The disbelief that you could have been that drunk.



I listen to you pour me another whiskey on “Hey Joe,” the amber shot holding

      all the sunken suns in the world, that shot of smack on “When a Guitar

      Plays the Blues.”

Not even an aardvark would hang itself as it tests the thread of light from

      which it tries to hide, not even a mole, not even an armadillo as it

      negotiates the two-ton night of Austin’s oncoming freight.



Something is always barreling down upon us, and something is always heavy

      with shame.

I hear the promise of that riff from “The Messiah Will Come Again” blur right

      through me, the Hammond organ cool me back to sane.


1971, that amazing documentary, The Best Unknown Guitarist in the World.

PBS made you more visible to yourself, even, than your mirror could take.


Your ‘53 Fender Telecaster you called Nancy, your note-bending staccato


You pioneered pinch harmonics, inching me toward dissolve.


You could hit the string, then partially mute it—muting me, Roy.

You could suppress those lower overtones from my duodenum, exposing the

      harmonics, a technique not quite known back then—not just to guitarists

      but to my own regenerative dream.


Your trebly signature tone took me to some shaky place inside.

I could die back then, right there, just hearing that groan.


But I didn’t, Roy, because your chord kept me alive.

Now I’m stuck imagining another cord dangling you inches above the floor.


Why’d you do it? Why’d you make her call the cops in the first place?

Why’d you stagger into that cell mad as hell at yourself for being that drunken



Your family and friends don’t believe you could’ve done it.

I don’t believe you could’ve, sitting here in awe of your riffs.


I finally saw you play not quite five years before.

Your wah wah tone, that violin swell using only the guitar’s knobs and a



Roy Buchanan B&W

You lied to us, Roy, lied to me as you kept me alive through my own teenage


Your father was a sharecropper—not a Pentacostal preacher as you had



You learned the blues in the back of a black church, back home in a shack

with an angry grasp.

And you carried that strap, carried your guitar and its weight, forty-eight years

      three hundred twenty-five days.


You gulped the amber track, shot by shot, sunken barroom sun to sunken

      barroom sun.

You shot us up with your needle-like note, with what you knew by heart—

that the heart of someone with that much love hovered within overtones,

between the suspension of a bent string and its release, hung there


between notes, inches above the killing floor, swaying like a bloated bag of

feed feeding us all scraps of said, of what if, of if-he-had-only-lived-a-while-longer.

It’s starting again. The lump in the throat. The disbelief. The mole crossing

the road. Sunken sun upon sunken sun hypnotizing the eye, the all-night animal drive tightening the armadillo’s track in the wax of your axe. As you swing tonight between notes of love and less love, between did he really do it, or was he roughed up by a jail-man tough. A while longer, Roy, a while longer.


Roy Buchanan: The Messiah Will Come Again

When a Guitar Plays the Blues

The author wishes to thank editor Richard Peabody for first publishing “The Best Unknown Guitarist In The World” in Gargoyle, 2008, Issue number 53.
So Many Roads, is a blues poetry column by George Kalamaras. Award-winning poet George Kalamaras was born on the South Side of Chicago and grew up listening to the blues--beginning with Ray Charles...(read bio)

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