Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Shelby Stephenson- Poem/Memoir

Short bio:  Shelby Stephenson's Family Matters:  Homage to July, the Slave Girl won the 2008 Bellday Poetry Prize, Allen Grossman, judge.

from Country

I remember, also, Stuart Hamlen: never
met him, heard him sing a thousand times

“This Old House,” which brought Hamlen
the Writer into households world-wide: he

wrote “My Mary,” too, a song I like, plus the sacred
song, “Known Only to Him” and the beautiful

“Remember Me, I’m the One Who Loves
You”: International Ambassador for Country Music,

George Hamilton, IV: September 15, 2010,
Cricket’s at my heels, while a man dressed in white

(hot day) pedals his bike up Paul’s Hill
whose crest blurs into the buttocks of the

White Rider, a cool brush of air under Derek’s
Canopy driving Crick and me inside. Hamilton’s

from Winston-Salem; he’s a year older than I:
first time I remember knowing his name was 1956:

I was a freshman at UNC-Chapel Hill:
Jerry Johnson was a sophomore pharmacy

major and he was in a Hygiene class with this
guy, Jerry said, who’d pop up his hand often to

respond to the instructor’s queries: fifty-four years
ago: George Hamilton, IV, travels mostly now with

a fifth, his son, George Hamilton, V: what
brought George, IV, into some fame right away?

The song, “A Rose and a Baby Ruth,” written by
John D. Loudermilk from Durham, North Carolina:

my favorite lines: “I could have sent you
an orchid of some kind, but that’s all I had in

my jeans at the time, but when we grow up,
someday I’ll show up just to prove I was telling

the truth: I’ll kiss you too then I’ll hand to you
this rose and a Baby Ruth”: now that may be as

close to Beauty as Truth can cuddle, especially
during the teen years, when boys are boys and

girls are girls: Jerry Johnson lived across the
creek, Middle Creek, calling me when we got a

telephone, party-line, 1952, telling me to lay my
end of the cord, phone, too, in the trashcan

because, he said, “I want to blow the dust out
of the line”: for a second, split, I believed him,

and, by George – Hamilton − Josh, the Rangers’
star is serious, too, about his being an all-around

baseball player, leading the American League in
hitting average and in other ways, as his story of

addiction and success after graduating from
Athens Drive High School in Raleigh and going

on the road, not as a singer, but a swinger,
young, proud, full of fish and vineyards: I

want him to “succeed,” get his inner with
outer, just as I am helping myself by finding the

big picture for my non-career as a country music
singer and poet, wanting George Hamilton, IV, to

keep music in his life: his parents, like mine, let the
way find a way: look at an early picture of George

and you see a version of me, his eyes open as he
sings: when I sing I close mine: in one photo, he’s

wearing one of those narrow ties popular in the early
1950’s: he switched to American University in the D.C.

area, because he connected with Lizard Lick’s Connie B. Gay
who promoted the Jimmy Dean Show, inviting Hamilton

on it and encouraging him to appear on the other
shows of the time, including Perry Como’s Kraft Music Hall.

Hamilton got his own program on ABC-TV,
always remembering his ABC’s of showmanship,

singing those songs straight ahead, doing the best
he could with what he had to work with,

his fifty years on the Opry a sign he might
someday be inducted into the Country Music

Hall of Fame: I love to hear him
backed by my old friend, Jimmy Capps, guitar picker,

from Benson: I guess George’s biggest other hit is
“Abilene”: “Abilene, Abilene, prettiest town I’ve ever

seen, folks down there don’t treat you mean, in Abilene,
my Abilene”: George Hamilton, IV, is more popular in

England than he is in Abilene or anywhere else in the
United States: I hope he’ll be in that Hall someday: I

never was asked to stand in the hall at school too often and
I felt sorry for those who had to. Yesterday Nin’s D

deepened and widened until I tried to communicate with
her by talking a zillion times louder than her zitherist’s

whisper: she worries about every phone call or ball of
dust a cleaner might see; she’s anxious about my exit as

editor of Pembroke Magazine. After I mailed
acceptances (accumulated) to the interim editor I

wondered if I should have used a clean, non-crumpled,
office-like – new − manila folder in the lightsome

style of the business-zooms. Anyhow, this morning
I’m looking out, the geese honking overhead heading North,

dragging their shadows again over Crick at my
feet, the sun dappling the terrace, Derek’s Awning a

glaring white, the yellow schoolbuses passing me on the
way to a new school called Cleveland near my old

Cleveland High, the new one a campus with acreage, criers,
hulks, hayseeds, honkers, hunks, hams, hummers, the way, I

expect, the vocal group The Hardens rose after The Browns
broke up: I’m talking heads up here, as a plan to capitalize

on a wave or wad of moneyed interests, followed by
more personal insecurity than hype may heap on

anyone who cares. The Browns (Maxine, Bonnie, Jim Ed)
stop their trio and the Harden Trio (Arleen, Robbie, Bobby)

climb on this shackly throne The Browns descended,
The Hardens, from England, Arkansas, the heart of the Ozarks,

stolid for success: well, it didn’t happen, even though
harmonicas played all over Arkansas back to

Benjamin Franklin’s invention of friction on glasses
filled with water or something like that, I’m sure,

putting the old glockenspiel to the mix: I never culled
reeds to hit with a hammer, though I have hefted

Greatgreatgrandpap George’s anvil to a place which
mattered, under that walnut tree, where I could hit

black walnuts − beats de-hulling with a truck
by running over them: what strong taste,

smell, between the anvil and the hammer my
whacking wrought at Pap George’s block in fall for

Mama to make one of those big, tall, layered
cakes full of black walnuts from our barnyard-tree.

I didn’t hear the word harmonica when I was
a boy; the word never quite fitted my mouth: I

called the thing a mouth-harp or breath-harp and
once or twice a French-harp, not knowing what I was

saying. Must have been in the 60’s, as I tried to
play “Oh! Susanna” or “Camptown Races,” my inhale

and exhale never right for my lack of talent: in short,
those small reeds inside that thin metal case with

“Hohner” embossed on the side never meant
more than frustration for me: I remain to this

day a Singer, inhaling and exhaling as instinct
finds me and leads me beside the Harmonicats

blowing and waffling their breaths on many a
country and western tune, like John Hartford whom

Nin and I have seen at many folk and bluegrass
fests in the 70’s up to the 90’s, John on an amplified

piece of plywood, tapping and shuffling his feet, John
on his steam boat Julia Belle Swain, piloting bends, motions,

John on his fiddle or mandolin, bowing, tickling, John
on his banjo, frailing, clawing, John, puffing his cheeks,

thumping them with his thumbs; well, you name the
instrument, he could play it from the time he was

born in New York City, mythologizing his Missouri
ancestry, his biggest hit, greater even than one he

wrote, “Gentle on My Mind”: to be a star you must
shine where you are. I could do something worse, upend

life to bear no points at all or make bad jokes no one
hears or cares about: I promise myself The Muse

works well, whether She and I converse together or
apart: I tried to eat a peach in my cereal this morning and

Nin said peaches are too expensive: oh, such a stranger.
I just heard a noise like a minor snort, a baby goose, out of

V-formation, lost, here, where I’m under Derek’s Awning
again, trying to re-find Kilroy: the sound I hear is

not a this-year’s cardinal either: like a little tongue it
slurps: there goes a red-tailed hawk swooping low

where the squirrel-proof feeder hangs between the
quince and the sasanqua at the corner of Kate’s room.

The nandina waves for October and prepares a face to
meet the hawk, maybe in a squat or standing tall for

me to see around the corner, myself in its place − but no
bird in sight; coming back to my chair, Cricket

snug against a rung, the birds fussing and carrying on
over the hawk’s presence, I look up at the picture window

to my study and there is an emerald, size of a medium-built
lapel pin, its shape outlined in gold piping and What it is

is a tree-frog hugging that window-glass for dear life: my
poem lies scattered in the crinkly poplar leaves on the ground,

the letter I wanted to hitch my muse to this morning in
pretty shambles shot, by virtue of my devotion to

Bess Lomax Hawes, daughter of John Lomax − oh, a
lover, Bess, of the old music, teacher (Idyllwild School of

Music and the Arts) and the writer of “The M.T.A. Song”
I heard the Kingston Trio perform in the early 60’s

at Duke University: bless be Bess as Universe − she
sang with the Almanac Singers husband Butch Hawes

helped start, a jump of bountiful amorphism, a form of
want, virtual, veritable, what with Burl Ives, Woody Guthrie, and

Pete Seeger coming by to sing September’s song,
what the birds and weeds do right here, in and around

Derek’s Awning: I can hardly stand it: the poem gets
loose for life and the writing teacher I became on my

day-job, like Jack Horner, goes to a corner and
sits on a stool and dreams of Hillbilly Heaven and

Who at my door is standing? Hawkshaw Hawkins!

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