Hey, Joe

“Hey, Joe” was written very much as the poem tells it. The song came on my car radio, as it had innumerable times before, but this time it stopped me in my tracks. I literally pulled over to listen to it more closely, and in that listening heard something disturbing in it. Shortly afterwards, I was told by a friend about the podcast “A History of Rock Music in 500 Songs” by Andrew Hickey, who had done a recent episode about Hendrix’s version of “Hey, Joe” which addresses some of the same issues dealt with in the poem. The poem is written in terza rima.

I kill the engine, frazzled by “Hey, Joe,”
how Hendrix jimmied up this old folk tune
which still gets air time on the radio.

His vocals and guitar cut to the bone
yet something bothers me about the song,
about the man called Joe. I’m not alone

in hearing femicide. Am I wrong
to shudder as he takes his gun in hand
persuaded by the warm notes—slow and long—

as a magician would a magic wand
to shoot his woman down? Unconsciously,
I mouth the lyrics, nodding in sustained

accompaniment, deaf to the grisly
details. I know so many songs like this
which rope you in to their worlds on the sly

then leave you panting with a little kiss
of blood. We worship our guitar gods hard,
permit them anything, but at what price?

A woman’s dead—anonymous, unheard.

Marc Alan Di Martino is the author of the collections Love Poem with Pomegranate (Ghost City Press, 2023), Still Life with City (Pski’s Porch, 2022) and Unburial (Kelsay, 2019). His poems and translations appear in Rattle, Rust + Moth, Palette Poetry and many other journals and anthologies. His translation Day Lasts Forever: Selected Poems of Mario dell’Arco will be published by World Poetry Books in 2024. Currently a reader for Baltimore Review, he lives in Italy.