The king knows our souls, would speak of our broken lives before we knew how to feel about them. I have knelt before him strumming tune of parallel strings like some mutant train track made of six silver threads, his hat an eave over eyes where he can duck below should someone come asking for answers he can't think to say aloud. We make a circle around him, a band of dust-polished warriors guarding their king.
The guitar is polished redwood but for the bald places his hands have been to weave the song. His fingers move over the worn spots like a lover's face again and again, never knowing her despite the hours they've touched.
You know him?
Just showed up here yesterday on the eastbound. Hopped off like a ghost with the guitar and nothing else. Didn't even touch the ground coming off like he'd been lifted down slow and carried away by someone waiting to take him up from below. Like a baby.
The blind man lit a cigarette, waving the flame and breathing in until he could hear the crack of lit tobacco, feel the burn of the smoke he'd neither seen nor touched.
Have a name?
Who. Me or him? Choof they call me because my daddy was named Choof and I looked just like him. He don't talk but for when he sings like he's got stage fright but only when he has to play his real character.
The two men returned themselves to the space made by the song and heard the last unforgiving sigh of their wives, the pneumonia rattled cough of their runty child, the hours spent waiting for work that never called them to a purpose.
They couldn't tell but the guitar man's mind was blank but for the words he sang and this is why he sang them. The songs themselves were his mind, taking his own written troubles and replacing them with another's, a gesture both generous and cowardly.
Forgive my sins upon the wind, my hobo soul will rise.
Lie-dee-lie-dee-lie. I'm not afraid to die.
As the whistle moved us, as the dust cast our shapes, a copper whisper in the shape of a man. Our shoes, no longer certain if the leather remained, the dirt and oil taking on the shape of what they lay upon and corroded. As we slept in a location we couldn't know when the day began. As we picked the trees clean, our own work guaranteeing the absence of that work once the goal of our hands had stripped them, starving our future selves because the present man believed in a job done right. As we forgot that we were born of two people, the roots of our origins long removed when the clawing winds of poverty and circumstance rolled us eternally across lands we could never own despite the sweat we poured into them like water emptied on a thing that can not grow because of sheer stubbornness or the way it had been made.
He thought but did not say: She was already gone before she left. Didn't touch for almost two years and then she just took the one child still nursing and we woke to the same cold house just without her reminding us of it. I could have loved her if we wouldn't have been so hungry. It seemed frivolous at the time, like it took too much of us to lift our mouths into words that shaped a promise we didn't believe. Impossible to still love each other when you argue the last carrot from the root cellar for yourself. Not her. Not the children. I suppose she hated that I did that. I can't blame either of us for doing what we did. Once you've taken the food from your own children's mouths, how can you turn again full-bellied and say to them love, filling that same hole that ground down the root with words that mean nothing because what you did doesn't match up with that word that made you a liar.
And she says: I birth. I die. I feed it. It still dies. Don't matter now and if it don't now, then it never did even when I first come home and told him we have a baby growing and he dropped the cup on the hard-scrubbed floor and picked me up strong only to set me down gentle looking at me like he'd never leave us even in spirit when that was all that was left of the body and his emaciated work. We didn't see it then but we should have. Sure as that cup met the fate written for it that day, the dangerous fragments rendering its usefulness in some past life as a facade of a broken cup playing whole. They never existed. Not the marriage. Not the children. The cup has always been broken. Our mouths were too full of nothing to say it straight to each other.
*Thank you to my English 327 and 221 classes today for filling that space with writing. This is what I caught.
*Lyrics by Gillian Welch