To The Republic
by James Galvin
fences the first sheepmen cast across the land, processions
of cringing pitch or cedar posts pulling into the vanishing
point like fretboards carrying barbed melodies, windharp
narratives, songs of place, I'm thinking of the long cowboy
ballads Ray taught me the beginnings of and would have taught
me the ends if he could have remembered them.
was years ago when Ray swamped for ranches at a dollar a day
and found, and played guitar in a Saturday night band, and now
he is dead and I'm remembering near the end when he just needed
a drink before he could tie his shoes.
We'd stay up all night
playing the beginnings of songs like Falling Leaf, about a
girl who died of grief, and Zebra Dun, about a horse that
pawed the light out of the moon.
Sometimes Ray would break
through and recall a few more verses before he'd drop a line
or scramble a rhyme or just go blank, and his workfat hands
would drop the chords and fall away in disbelief.
songs he'd pull on the rum or unleash coughing fits that
sounded like nails in a paper bag.
Done, he'd straighten and
say, My cough's not just right, I need another cigarette, and
light the Parliament he bit at an upward angle like Roosevelt
and play the start of another song.
Then, played out and
drunk enough to go home, he'd pick up his hat and case and
make it, usually on a second try, through the front gate
and gently list out into the early morning dark, beginning
again some song without end, yodeling his vote under spangles.