At a certain point, it didn’t matter.
I commanded him to lead.
Farther. So far I was no longer me
Long before I was no longer safe.
I shed everything, save being.
There is a moment, even in the face
Of defeat, when the chase alone
Is enough. I lived quickly,
My whole life disappearing
From around me like a sound
That rises into the air and is gone
Without even an echo. After song
There is a pang. The heart in clench.
Then memory. Then retreat
Into the present. That silence.
Not emptiness, but weight.
I felt my steps marking the space
Where I must tread. Then it was I
Who led. Dragging us both
Into his world. It was real. More real
Even than what came after.
- Tracy K. Smith
Who made the banjo sad & wrong?
Who made the luckless girl & hell bound boy?
Who made the ballad? The one, I mean,
where lovers gallop down mountain brush as though in love—
where hooves break ground to blood earth scent.
Who gave the boy swift words to woo the girl from home,
& the girl too pretty to leave alone? He locks one arm
beneath her breasts as they ride on—maybe her apron comes
undone & falls to a ditch of black-eyed susans. Maybe
she dreams the clouds are so much flour spilt on heaven’s table.
I’ve run the dark county of the heart this music comes from—but
I don’t know where to hammer-on or to drop a thumb to the
haunted string that sets the story straight: All night Willie’s dug
on Polly’s grave with a silver spade & every creek they cross
makes one last splash. Though flocks of swallows loom—the one
hung in cedar now will score the girl’s last thrill. Tell
me, why do I love this sawmill-tuned melancholy song
& thud of knuckles darkening the banjo face?
Tell me how to erase the ancient, violent beauty
in the devil of not loving what we love.