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a poem in 3 parts about Johnny Cash

prose in 3 parts about Johnny Cash

If I only knew you loved me, too, I'd still be there.

                    --Johnny Cash


Johnny Cash got himself hypnotized after he had written a song in a dream and then forgot the lyrics. From the trance, he remembered all the words to "I'd Still Be There."

People alive and dead appear to each other in visions, dreams, and trances, with messages of comfort and warning and songs of love and loss. 


Johnny Cash was attacked by an ostrich on his animal farm at the House of Cash.  The bird, having lost his mate in a hard Tennessee freeze, was crazed with grief.  So, he attacked Johnny Cash unprovoked, wings out, head forward, beak open, hissing. Johnny, not one to be bullied by a bird on his own property, took a wild swing at the ostrich with a 6-foot stick and missed. The ostrich leaped in a high arc and came down on Johnny’s belly with its lethal big toe. It would have disemboweled Johnny Cash but for the grace of God.

Johnny Cash was left with broken ribs, 
a severe laceration of the abdomen and an addiction to morphine.

Johnny Cash had crawled deep into the absolute darkness of Nickajack Cave to lie down and die. He was wild with grief because, years later, his wife June Carter would die and then Johnny would die a few months later, as everyone will have predicted.

This is not the sequence in time but it is the sequence in the heart, in which all time collapses into a single node  
somewhere among the muscles and chambers.  Those things that measure out the pulse of time--hearts, clocks, dripping water in limestone caverns--know nothing of time.

So Johnny crawled hopelessly far into the cave, which holds the bones of Confederate soldiers and generations of hell-raising teenagers  who lost their way. And he was touched by God and saw a light and was guided out by the Spirit and by a sliver of sunray and the faintest of breezes.  

I'd still be there, he might say, but for the Holy Spirit, who leads people into caves and then out in the light. Into deserts and then out of them. Into love and then out of love. Into despair and then out.

--Dale Wisely

copyright 2005, 2011, all rights reserved.
(First appeared in an earlier version in the BIRMINGHAM ARTS JOURNAL, 2005)