J. Camp Brown

Hug–Eyed Bill and the Gravid Shadow

When whisper festered Mother’s voice, Father
cut the eight steel strings off Bill’s mandolin.
Took his pick.  Quiet Goddammit.  Bill stole
away the catgut from his mother’s fiddle
and to pick with, picked up the quill of a crow.
Roaming the bank of the Caney near the county line,
the hug–eyed boy, backlit in a field, held
the face of the mandolin to his stomach
paunched out its bowl back, and turning
sideways, looking at his shade, he hollered
See this here boy, heavy with his momma’s tunes.
He trilled yodels homeward.  There, his mother
hardened, and Father, still hearing her song, clenched
an eight–strapped steel scourge, and waited for Bill.

Mandolin in White Wood, Tuning

       No lackluster diamond in the dustpan, she
says  you quit looking too soon.  Ear bowed

to the sound–
       holes, I crank tuning keys.

You sifted the trash?  Took apart the drains?  I nod
       closer to the instrument:—its double courses coalesce.

       Pawned:—the zirconium for these strings
that will stay tuned.

       I say keep sweeping
for she whisks the straw tines

       like a drummer’s brushes:—
       the floor, her snare | the door, her crash.

J. Camp Brown rummages through the origins of, and traces the legacy of, an American musical genre. His poems about mandolins, minstrels, and the father of bluegrass music—Bill Monroe—can be found in Shenandoah, Memorious, Post Road, RHINO, Juked, Black Warrior Review, and elsewhere. Hailing from Fort Smith, Arkansas, he now plays bluegrass and teaches English in the Mid Hudson Valley.


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