High John the Conqueror by John Miller

The once and future king
who never needed a sword:
he of the outside way, the
straight lick from a crooked stick,
faded to the faintest whisper.

Yes, yes, from time to time
he would appear in tall tales:
High John foxed the devil
in his own backyard,
even buffaloed the master.

But as years plowed on,
Old John went the way
of gris gris and mojo hands:
one more made up answer
for all-too-real problems.

He bided his time, went east,
got a piece Verwoerd, and then
High John plotted his comeback
– this time more Stagolee,
less Joel Chandler Harris.

And now, without even speaking,
people pray for him to return.
High John the Conqueror is coming.
He’s got a heart of barbed wire,
and he wears a suit of flame.

 

 

 

Hailing from Eugene Walter’s kingdom of monkeys and sweet lunacy’s county seat, John Miller was sent so frequently to look up etymologies during meals as a kid that he toted a dictionary to dinner. His work has appeared in Kindred, Paper Nautilus, Rat’s Ass Review, and elsewhere. He teaches for New College in Tuscaloosa.