in memory of Johnny Cash (1932–2003)

Johnny was no average guy,
__The troubled man in black.
His life, by evil, went awry,
__And loving brought it back.

The radio and Mama’s hymns
__Filled up his youthful heart.
Jack’s accident and Daddy’s whims
__Then tore his heart apart.

At home they called him J.R.,
__The Air Force made it John,
But Johnny Cash would be the star
__The groupies wished upon.

The fifties brought him glory.
__He sang his mournful rhymes.
He told the truthful stories
__Of tough and tougher times.

Some say that Country, Rock & Roll,
__The tours, the sex, the pills,
Were risky games and, as a whole,
__They started all his ills.

But Johnny knew he couldn’t blame
__The drugs or gals or gold.
He knew he’d shoulder all the shame.
__His soul would pay the toll.

While lying deep inside a cave,
__Alone and giving in,
His heart found only love could save
__Him from his life of sin.

He slowly raised himself above
__The filth upon the floor,
And somehow found his way to love
__At sweet June Carter’s door.

When Johnny lost his joy and spine,
__His life down in the mire,
June made him want to walk the line,
__Embrace that ring of fire.



Mike Bryant is a poet and retired plumber living on the Gulf Coast of Texas.

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37 Responses

  1. Russel Winick

    I’m sure that Johnny Cash would have liked this poem. Good job, Mike!

  2. Joe Tessitore

    Holy Cow, is that a good poem!
    It brought tears to my eyes –
    “That little dark-haired boy who played the Tennessee flat-top box.”

    • Mike Bryant

      Joe, Cash recorded that song when I was 10. I was a little dark haired boy in a south Texas border town, but I don’t remember hearing it till many years later. There are lots of great Country singers out there, but I prefer Cash. Thanks, Joe.

      • Joe Tessitore

        Listen to his daughter’s cover – one of the happiest songs I ever heard.

      • Mike Bryant

        Joe, I just heard her cover. When she recorded it she didn’t know that her Dad wrote it. He was thrilled that she did so well with it. And, yes, it is joyful and better than the original!

  3. ben

    As I was driving down the road
    I remembered Johnny Cash
    Today this happened in the morning
    In Eden Prairie, on a dash.

    To get some dip from Lil’ Red
    I hankered for his baritone
    The outlaw rebel, man in black.
    And now on here, we have this poem.

  4. Sally Cook

    Always great to see work from you, Mike. Yoiu don’t miss much, if anything. Thanks for another good poem.

    Hi, Mike –
    So good to hear more from you, Mike. You are a good poet with a wide range. I love your point of view and your sense of humor. Let us see more of both!

  5. Brian Yapko

    A very enjoyable poem, Mike – very befitting to a legend. I don’t know a lot of country music but “Walk the Line” was one of my favorite ever biopic. Your fine tribute makes me want to watch it again!

    • Mike Bryant

      Thanks, Brian, I guess I better watch it too. I can’t believe I haven’t seen it yet.

  6. Paul Freeman

    Am I the only one who had the voice of Johnny Cash in my head when I read this poem?

    If I may make a suggestion to change ‘His soul would pay the toll’ to ‘His soul was put on hold’.

    Thanks for the read.

    • Mike Bryant

      Thanks, Paul. Of course you heard his voice, because I heard it as I wrote it. And thanks for the suggestion.

  7. Jeff Eardley

    Mike, I love this. My favourite song was always “One piece at a time” about stealing parts from an auto plant to build a new car. He has many impersonators over here. My neighbour, Pete Cash is one. He’s even nicked his name. One of America’s greatest and this is a super tribute. The “Walk the Line” biopic is excellent.

    • Mike Bryant

      Thanks, Jeff. Yup, Cash is unmistakable I never heard anyone ask, “Is that Johnny Cash singing on the radio?” What great music and what a life!

  8. Jeff Kemper

    I love it! There’s country music. There’s rock n roll. There’s bluegrass. And there’s Johnny Cash, an entirely separate genre.

  9. Joe Tessitore

    Mike, thanks for the info on Tennessee Flat Top Box – it makes it even more special to me!

    • Mike Bryant

      No problem… I have this crazy thing for research… I don’t know why because I only remember a fraction of the things I find out!

  10. David Watt

    This is an excellent poem about one of my favorite singers. His gravelly voice had a quality that can’t be replicated. Mike, thanks for your fitting tribute.

  11. Julian D. Woodruff

    A nice tribute. I’m no Cash expert, nor much of a singer, but to me he represented as well as anyone the familiar adage that singing is talking on a (series of) pitch(es), and that directness of approach is the key to his musical appeal.

    • Mike Bryant

      Thanks, Julian. I don’t think anyone would say he was a great singer, but he could certainly communicate. And there was something familiar in his words.

  12. Lucia Haase

    Wonderful poem! I’ve read several biographies on
    Johnny Cash. He also became an ordained minister.
    His life turned around after the experience in the
    Nickajack caves in which he felt a wind at his back
    to lead him out. That experience brought him
    closer to the Lord.

    • Mike Bryant

      Thank you, Lucia, he did lead an interesting life. I’m glad you liked the mini bio.

  13. Lucia Haase

    I have several of his albums and CD’s but my
    favorite is the last CD he recorded called Cash
    with the song called Hurt and When the Man
    Comes Around.

  14. BDW

    as per “Wild” E. S. Bucaree:

    What an interesting take on an interesting topic. This is my favourite Mr. Bryant poem; it’s iconic Americana. I love its ballad form; the title is interesting. Though the 4th stanza is my least favourite, the diction throughout the poem is very good. It is pure Johnny Cash. [JC: Johnny Cash, June Carter, Jesus Christ.]

    I’ll be goin’ up north to Nashville in August, maybe peer in the Johnny Cash Museum, but definitely hittin’ The Grand Ole Opry.


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