The Girl Singer
On stage with her signature
black Gibson, the A minor chord
she strums sounds lonesome
as an old grave. She knows
she never got her due. Those men
said we’re doing you a big favor
honey. On tours, she was just a notch
above the gapped-tooth comic
in his battered derby and checkered
jacket, clowning on the upright bass.
The ghost of their voices rattle
chains in her sleep: And now . . .
here’s our pretty little lady . . .
Anyway, her fans tired of the mournful
tunes her people sang in North
Carolina: boots of Spanish leather,
Irish seafarers with their chilly winds,
Kentucky miners chasing
an aggravating beauty, all the Aeolian
tunes weeping like orphan children.
Even the cheerful songs—the jaybird,
the sparrow, the cuckoo—fell on idle
ears, serving her no more. Besides,
she grew into herself, weary
of all the women killed in those murder
drowned—their bodies floating
downstream to the miller’s cove.
Every few years some excited
musicologist finds her, tries to revive
her. So she keeps her hair raven-colored
in case she gets a gig, a folk festival
or reunion show. Like tonight
in the still air of the Bell County
high school gym, she’s buried
between The Wilburn Brothers
and Bill Anderson and the Po’ Boys.
She sings all men are fools, the notes
in her throat sharp as the Silver Dagger.