by Atar Hadari

Excerpt from The Johnson Play

Setting:       Bare stage

Time:           Night

Character:   Bluesman ROBERT JOHNSON, 50s, African-American

ROBERT JOHNSON speaks directly to the audience while off-stage, a white girl is giving birth to his first grandchild.


I remember—my first baby was born.

I wan’t there a while. Well—my baby was.
She was a brown-skinned woman
no lighter than a tobacco leaf
and I was no more’n nineteen,
soft in my hand. She was young, I was young,
baby inside her belly was way too young.

I went out—get some food and scut
some money up get meat for the bride
and her mother looked after her like your mother
looking after your girl now, an’ she was cryin’
just a little bit cause she was scared
an’ I was so proud. Went out and chopped
a bunch o’ trees for ten cents—
I couldn’t play then—no hands—
and I came back the baby was dead.

I walk through the door with meat
an’ there’s no sound.
I open the door, it whine, an’ there’s no sound
only her mother by the fire, sewing.

I say “Where the girl?” And she tell me she gone too.

Both o’ them in the other room.

Her face all wet in the firelight.

Not a sound. Hands movin’ on the string.

I went outside and hid the meat. Under the snow.
I dug a hole and buried the meat. With my hands.
Then I went out in the woods with my guitar—
my nails was broken, from digging
hard earth, I went with that box
and strings and a stick and sat
against a wood riddled like a rattlesnake
down its side and I played.

Ha. People say there’s a man—a black man
comes out of the woods at night;
a black man—if you play alone in the moonlight
and he says “Do you want to play my song?”
an’ if you say yes he takes your guitar
from you, plays his little picks—
then gives it back and your soul is gone—
you can play any old song Satan wrote—
play it whiter’n’ prettier ‘n’ the moon—
but your soul is gone—he’ll come back for you.

It’s not true. He didn’t come back for me.

I played with my hands all that night.

He didn’t come back for me.

I didn’t have any meat.

There wasn’t any meat anywhere after that.
I never dug it up. Never saw that mother again.

Maybe she’s still sewin’. Her face all wet.

I’m booked near Rockport. I got to go.

copyright © 2010 Atar Hadari.  All rights reserved.

Atar Hadari was born in Israel, raised in England and studied playwriting at Boston University. His plays have won awards from the BBC, Arts Council of England, National Foundation of Jewish Culture (New York), European Association of Jewish Culture (Brussels) and Royal Shakespeare Company, where he was Young Writer-in-Residence.

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