River of Life Gospel
-For George Trani
Last night of the Folk Festival
small town revelry,
and the River of Life Gospel
Bluegrass Band gets up. Before
they play, George’s wife reads
a thank you letter, thanks everyone
for the money, for the prayers for his
recovery. Thanks everyone for his life.
He sits still, hands on his banjo.
I watch him and think brain aneurysm
how it came suddenly the week he retired,
out of the clear black sky.
He wanted to come back, she says
he wanted to play again. We want him to play again.
The band starts, slow but sure, their fingers
on the bass, the guitar, the singing fiddle
careful and silvery in the lights. The audience
is so quiet—even the babies seem to be tuned
to voices from another world.
Then the leader calls out, mid-tune-
you, George, you go
and I want to say no, what if he’s not ready
and then George’s hands steady on those shining
strings, pull music out of the banjo, like
thoughts that come and go and then suddenly
arrive, yes, that’s what I meant to say in a rush
of certainty. The band swings up into chorus and
the audience explodes, roaring to their feet
clapping drowning the music, clapping so hard as if
just the action of putting our hands together could
heal thin artery walls, mend them together
in our palms, as if we were clapping for a miracle
clapping to ask for nothing more than an ordinary man’s
life and clear banjo music on a warm April night.
Copyright © Emily Wall 2009