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John Doe No. 24

Mary Chapin Carpenter

I was standing on this sidewalk in 1945
In Jacksonville, Illinois
When asked what my name was there came no reply
They said I was a deaf and sightless half-wit boy
But Lewis was my name though I could not say it
I was born and raised in New Orleans
My spirit was wild so I let the river take it
On a barge and a prayer upstream

They searched for a mother and they searched for a father
And they searched till they searched no more
The doctors put to rest their scientific tests
And they named me John Doe No. 24
And they all shook their heads in pity
For a world so silent and dark
Well there's no doubt that life's a mystery
But so too is the human heart

And it was my heart's own perfume
When the crape jasmoine bloomed on St. Charles Avenue
Though I couldn't hear the bells of the streetcars coming
By toeing the track I knew
And if I were an old man returning
With my satchel and porkpie hat
I'd hit every jazz joint on Bourbon
And I'd hit every one on Basin after that

The years kept passing as they passed me around
From one state ward to another
Like I was an orphaned shoe from the lost and found
Always missing the other
They gave me a harp last Christmas
And all the nurses took a dance
Lately I've been growing listless
I've been dreaming again of the past

I'm wandering down to the banks of the great big muddy
Where the shotgun houses stand
I am seven years old and I feel my daddy
Reach out for my hand
While I drew breath no-one missed me
So they won't on the day that I cease
Put a sprig of crape jasmine with me
To remind me of New Orleans

I was standing on this sidewalk in 1945
In Jacksonville, Illinois

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