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Nick Johns, 24 Aug '12

Ode to Billie Joe

I keep telling myself I shouldn’t oughta come up here, but somehow all the roads in this town just end up here anyhow.
The water that flows under the bridge is new every day. It don’t come back to the same old place – not like me.
Never the same since the old bridge broke up. Always looked kinda tired and sad, like it wanted to be in the water – then one day it was. Washed away the road – but not the memories.
This new one now, it’s a different bridge entirely. New, shiny, strong – but outta place here somehow. No history, ya see?
Harder to see the water than off the old bridge too. You’d have to climb now if you wanted to throw somethin’ off.
I always see things best from right on the edge - down there.
The hand rail is hot as hell, and slippery too, what with sweating hands and dust and all. Easy to see how a body could lose their grip and fall. Or you just let go, just let the water take you, wash you like the Jordan, deliver you to a whole new place.
It’s a pretty spot though. Always was. Same view every June, flowers blooming all along the ridge, like always.
But now I got no flowers to throw.
I don’t do that no more.
I guess enough’s been lost off here over the years as it is, without me adding to it.
The water’s still muddy though, that never changes.

Winner of the Untold Tales Competition, 09 Oct '12

Judge Rob Brown thought this burst had the best sustained voice out of those on the shortlist, and appreciated the way it references the Bobbie Gentry song 'Ode to Billie Joe', while still working outside of this frame of reference for those who aren't familiar.

Comments · 9

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  • Nick Johns said...

    I wrote this after thinking about songs and their stories. This song always best illustrated for me the writers maxim that the reader does not need to be told everything. So even when the story continues, this remains true. I would particularly value any comments on the character's voice as I am not an American, although I have visited the South often. Does this count for 'The Blues'?

    • Posted 10 years ago
  • Michael McClung said...

    Nice. the only part of the dialect that didn't sound quite right to me was 'oughta' though that might just be me. More of a gangster 'why I oughta...' I'd have expressed it as ' I shouldn't ought to' Hope this helps :)

    • Posted 10 years ago
  • Shirley Golden said...

    Hi Nick, I enjoyed reading this. I like using songs to base stories around and this song certainly leaves room for a writer to add their own spin to it. In terms of the character's voice, it sounds fine to me but I'm not American either! The only word I wasn't sure about (nothing to do with voice) was 'body' in 'Easy to see how a body could lose their grip...' I wondered if 'somebody' or 'a person' would work better. But this is a quibble, I thought it was a well written piece.

    • Posted 10 years ago
  • Anthony Blackshaw said...

    I've added it to the blues competition Nick :)

    • Posted 10 years ago
  • Nick Johns said...

    Thanks guys!

    • Posted 10 years ago
  • bill spencer said...

    Comments from an American whose great grandmother was born in a sod house in Kansas: I liked the "shouldn't oughta," I used to talk that way in high school sometimes. I also like the voice. Side note: interesting that a lot of people like this, and also liked my native American story. Is it something appealing about a voice that is more unrefined and therefore more authentic?

    • Posted 10 years ago
  • Nick Johns said...

    Thanks Bill. It is sometimes difficult to write in a 'foreign' voice without descending into parody. I also liked your story as I found the character truly believable. There was just enough of him shown to 'see' him, but not so much as to clutter the story. After all, all of us show different faces to different people and they are often unaware of our back story.

    • Posted 10 years ago
  • Angela Watt said...

    Congratulations Nick. Look forward to listening to this soon. Well done.

    • Posted 10 years ago
  • Ushasri Nannapaneni said...

    Hi, I am a newbie here. Just a few days old. I am reading for now, to get a feel for what I can find on the site.

    Very well written piece. I love the premise. Looking forward to reading more. Cheers n tc.

    • Posted 9 years ago