Black Billy Waters, at His Pitch

This reading was recorded by Alessandro Mistrorigo at Phonodia LAB in Venice, Italy, on the 18th of April, 2014.

Read by Rita Dove on 18 April 2014

Black Billy Waters, at His Pitch

All men are beggars, white or black;
some worship gold, some peddle brass.
My only house is on my back.

I play my fiddle, I stay on track,
give my peg leg–thankee sire!–a jolly thwack;
all men are beggars, white or black.

And the plink of coin in my gunny sack
is the bittersweet music in a life of lack;
my only house is on my back.

Was a soldier once, led a failed attack
in that greener country for the Union Jack.
All men are beggars, white or black.

Crippled as a crab, sugary as sassafras:
I'm Black Billy Waters, and you can kiss my sweet ass!
My only house weighs on my back.

There he struts, like a Turkish cracker jack!
London queues for any novelty, and that's a fact.
All men are beggars, white or black.

And to this bright brown upstart, hack
among kings, one piece of advice: don't unpack.
All the home you'll own is on your back.

I'll dance for the price of a mean cognac,
Sing gay songs like a natural-born maniac;
all men are beggars, white or black.

So let's scrape the catgut, stack
the chords three deep! See, I'm no quack–
though my only house is on my back.
All men are beggars, white or black.

from Sonata Mulattica (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., © 2009 by Rita Dove). All rights reserved. Copying to other websites or any kind of reprint is a violation of international copyright laws and strictly forbidden.

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