I often think of
all the songs I never played,
bronze-wound Martin strings silent
in the velvet-lined hard-shell case.
They exist somewhere in the quantum field,
the wave-particle duality
in the synapses of my brain that winks
every second or two between potential
and the notes I hung in a spare moment
on the tree outside my window
or the ears of someone washing dishes
in the next room or on the sunbeam
that was my companion eight days a week,
Walter Mitty playing the venue
twenty thousand strong as the lights went down
and the spot picked me up as I walked
center stage, slinging the strap across my shoulder.
There are days when I wish
I were an old black man,
sitting on a sinking porch.
There would be no regret, no looking back
as I hung notes on invisible clefs,
singing the blues and the sky
and never looking back,
working the strings with bony fingers,
tapping the boards beneath my feet,
making music sultry and sweet
or more often than not
down and out because Mabel done left me,
and that was the end of that.
The neighborhood wives and single mothers
would be my audience as they sauntered by,
brown bags and babies clutched under their arms
as they picked up twelve bars
before reaching the end of the block.
It would be a good life,
and maybe Clapton, Mick, or Keith
would discover my licks and angst.
At least the music would be out there,
drifting on a deep blue afternoon
and making love to the dying day
that had been near and dear,
though we certainly had our spats.
Sparrows on the telephone wire
would take the songs across the block
or the river, and my fame would spread
like the fire of sunset.
Yes, I wish I’d let it fly.
But that’s not what happened.
The world was too much with me,
and I dragged myself out of bed
to teach grammar or a poem,
me—the living cliff notes
standing in front of a sleepy venue
watching the clock
and hoping that my droning
would be put in a velvet-lined coffin,
my lyrics stashed in the string pocket
where they could do no harm.
And yet there were times I found the sweet spot
and played for hours, glorious missing time,
day-tripping through the catalog of a band
or the folkies for whom I was journeyman,
strumming or fingerpicking,
the left hand not knowing what the right was doing,
and yet both dancing in syncopated sync.
But still I wish I had lost more hours
to that soul within that lives on melody.
I wish I had played a thousand more songs,
the movement I needed right there on my
I wish I had played them for you.
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