as performed by Janis Joplin
God’s got his eye on me, but I ain’t a sparrow.
I’m more like a lawn mower …no, a chainsaw,
Anything that might mangle each manicured lawn
In Port Arthur, a place I wouldn’t return to
If the mayor offered me every ounce of oil
My daddy cans at the refinery. My voice, I mean,
Ain’t sweet. Nothing nice about it. It won’t fly
Even with Jesus watching. I don’t believe in Jesus.
The Baxter boys climbed a tree just to throw
Persimmons at me. The good and perfect gifts
From above hit like lightning, leave bruises.
So I lied—I believe, but I don’t think God
Likes me. The girls in the locker room slapped
Dirty pads across my face. They called me
Bitch, but I never bit back. I ain’t a dog.
Chainsaw, I say. My voice hacks at you. I bet
I tear my throat. I try so hard to sound jagged.
I get high and say one thing so many times
Like Willie Baker who worked across the street—
I saw some kids whip him with a belt while he
Repeated, Please. School out, summertime
And the living lashed, Mama said I should be
Thankful, that the town’s worse to coloreds
Than they are to me, that I’d grow out of my acne.
God must love Willie Baker—all that leather and still
A please that sounds like music. See.
I wouldn’t know a sparrow from a mockingbird.
The band plays. I just belt out, Please. This tune
Ain’t half the blues. I should be thankful.
I get high and moan like a lawn mower
So nobody notices I’m such an ugly girl.
I’m such an ugly girl. I try to sing like a man
Boys call, boy. I turn my face to God. I pray. I wish
I could pour oil on everything green in Port Arthur.
why the hell can i not post a poem without the formatting getting all screwy?
The deer come out in the evening.
God bless them for not judging me,
I’m drunk. I stand on the porch in my bathrobe
and make strange noises at them—
if language can be a kind of crying.
The tin cans scattered in the meadow glow,
each bullet hole suffused with moon,
like the platinum thread beyond them
where the river runs the length of the valley.
That’s where the fish are.
I’ll scoop them from the pockets of graveled
stone beneath the bank, their bodies
desperately alive when I hold them in my hands,
the way prayers become more hopeless
when uttered aloud.
The phone’s disconnected.
Just as well, I’ve got nothing to tell you:
I won’t go inside where the bats dip and swarm
over my bed. It’s the sound of them
shouldering against each other that terrifies me,
as if it might hurt to brush across another being’s
But I carry a gun now. I’ve cut down
a tree. You wouldn’t recognize me in town—
my hands lost in my pockets, two disabused tools
I’ve retired from their life of touching you.