Chapter 17 (from Country)

Shelby Stephenson

My words, blabby; at times, I’m crabby, cantankerous,
tough; my idealism a dove’s coo from variation.

Take this morning:  I woke up awake.  My back
ached from cutting back those old-timey

beauty-bushes.  Ashley’s going to build Nin and
me a shed for the Suzuki Equator and Leonard

Trailer.  I hang over the frayed lining of my briefcase I
bought in Pittsburgh in ’64 before I took leave of

A.T. & T. and enrolled as a special student at Pitt:  I
am neither wit nor want-to-be, am someone to fatten a

scene, slice the air to smithereens, at times, for I am a
Southrener, loaded with worms from childhood; when

barefooted I’d romp around the yard Mama swept with
her  “dogwood” brooms:  I just wonder if I am free to

go without shoes anymore, dodging the chicken
manures (white part’s an adverb).  O to teach and

delight!  I wonder if Chaucer ever got soused!
Dogwood’s “Christ” to me, the Outcast, lugging that

Cross up Calvary:  I remember how to spell
Calvary because the “L” reminds me of something

straight up and down like the Old Rugged.  Cavalry’s
another world, conjuring for me, not the

military, but the Ku Klux Klan:  hoods and
dark glasses the eyes behold−bullies terrorizing

people.  There is the chance, of course, that perception
turns on zero.  My Scag can do that.  My mother would

say Take them clothes off your faces, boys−not
thinking beyond the bushes she used to sweep our

yard in the days Before Lawns.  How I loved to dodge
the hardened droppings, first, and then skip the art of fancy

lettering−airplanes, twig-squiggling burbles of
birds−and the faces of ancestors.  The roots of my

family run back to the first Stephenson who
came to Isle of Wight around 1651:  my

Hanes-band thins and stretches repose around my
navel, no doubt about it, no matter how long our baths

bubble or how many float our joy−August is
butterflies.  It dances and sings and makes me

want to give you a ring.  How they brush the green
and air with ease.  I think I could bloom with

crepe-myrtles−red and white and lavender−winged.
September claims them somehow.  They seem not

to last, lifting longingly so long they never right
themselves; then they disappear.  I was going to say when

I started this entry I want to write about Hank Cochran,
who died in August, 2010.  A Mississippian, Greenville,

he composed “I Fall to Pieces” (Patsy Cline)
and “She’s Got You” (Patsy Cline) and

“A Little Bitty Tear” (Burl Ives) and “Make the
World Go Away” (Eddy Arnold, Ray Price) and

“Don’t Touch Me” (Jeannie Seely).  Cochran was
married to Seely at the time.  This concludes

my composition for 10 August 2010.  The injured
red-tailed hawk comes out to see me.  He looks like

one of those side-characters in Star Wars, lifting
low as if to conserve energy; he swings off to

Cow Mire and pitches in a sweetgum shaped like a
steeple.  Across the road Greatgreatgrandpap George

lies in that coffin N.B. Honeycutt charged his
estate $12.50 to make, October 19, 1886.

Pap’s fifteen “blood” children coddle my
mind, plus four Pen had by Jacob T. Woodall.

Nin’s scare two days ago, and another yesterday,
weigh into a State of Mind.  How does it all

work?  We rise and fall like everyone and
everything else on Earth.  Singers sing and

players play; hootenannies bray, kick,
whinny, bleat and thingamajig for performers like

John Cohen and the New Lost City Ramblers or
Ben Colder, who is really Sheb Wooley of

Rawhide−wrote “Purple People Eater”−popular in
those psychedelic ’60’s; disk-jockey-promoter

Biff Collie, Judy Collins, Tommy Collins (real name
Leonard Sikes):  Tommy Collins befriended

Merle Haggard in Bakersfield and Hag wrote
“Leonard,” acknowledging Sikes’s hand-out when

times were hard:  Haggard had not yet struck a chord
with the public, his record-sales below expenses.

Leonard Sikes brought Merle Haggard some
groceries:  bad times won Collins over, however−

drugs and booze:  he became a preacher, though he
still couldn’t shake his love for that Powerful

Stuff.  Merle Haggard and Buck Owens did tribute
albums of songs Collins wrote:  “If You Ain’t Loving,

You Ain’t Living” I sang in high school, learned
it from Faron Young.  My favorite Collins-write’s a

secular-religious story-song, “High on a Hilltop”:
adducible things out of a country music roundup come to

light:  smoothness, locks and snaps, bites, crackles,
pops, then some room, empty, full of space, rumors, my

back touching yours, lying on the ground, your figure−
variables, verses, biases, turns, Love.  Stoney Cooper,

Harman, West Virginia, fiddler, songwriter, singer:  I
used to hear him and Wilma Lee on WWVA, Wheeling,

Saturday nights:  the Philco rests on the stand, squat
like the hurt hawk:  Daddy’s in his chair by the

heater, a Silent Flame Heater, made by Long−oil−
not wood, the first heat; not coal, the second:  he’s

playing checkers by himself.  Crown my man, he
says, as if they might speak, saying to himself

what they say, what he wants to hear, as if the
checkers were foxhounds or mules:  music’s a

shuck-sound, moving men on the board like Stoney
raking his bow on “Footprints in the Snow” or

playing the heartstrings of Wilma Lee Leary as
they sit in a porch-swing, my talk of their 30’s

farmhouse alive clear across the country, leading a
point of light into the little Philco, the one or two

rose-brown tubes glowing a breath from so small a
thing, Stoney sawing his cornstalk, fiddling that hill

country music known as Bluegrass, not quite
working exactly, as words do, there being a

savage and quiet atonement, any dress, actually,
which seeks meaning:  the fiddler fiddles, while the

air-conditioner whirs, and the cardinals chirp, the
titmouse, too, horning its beautiful song, acorns

falling on the tin canopy mounted over the entry to the
basement, plus my Bic in the pages of this Chub

Notebook Tina Emanuel gave me, actually
giving me a slew of CN’s, in the same sense

Stoney and Wilma Lee must have schooled their
daughter Carolee as the family scrounged to pay their

bills, first playing concerts around Wheeling in the
30’s, Midwest in the 40’s, including WJJD where my

namesake Shelby Jean Davis stood on a box to reach
the microphone, Stoney and Wilma Lee moving

back to Wheeling, WWVA, in the 50’s and to WSM
and the Opry in the late 60’s, calling their band the

Clinch Mountain Clan:  “There’s a Big Wheel” and
“Big Midnight Special,” two of their hits:  Don Gibson

wrote “There’s a Big Wheel” for Wilma Lee and Stoney:  the
wheel’s Wheeling in turbo.  Chorus:  “There’s a Big Wheel,

there’s a Big Wheel, there’s a Big Wheel, and He’s
a whole lot bigger than you, there’s a Big Wheel, there’s a

Big Wheel, and He’s a whole lot bigger than me”:
W L & S had a popular version of Dorsey Dixon’s

“I Didn’t Hear Nobody Pray”:  Dixon was a
Crazy Water Crystal at one time, out of WBT,

Charlotte:  Roy Acuff recorded the song as
“The Wreck on the Highway,” a tear-jerker

Earl Langdon sang near the water tank at
Cleveland School every day he was allowed to

go, until his “spells” kept him home; he’d wobble
toward his bicycle; I would see him wearing his

football helmet to catch his falls until one day
a car struck him from behind as he was coasting

down a long hill; I saw him ride up the hood and
land as the car pulled off on the shoulder:  after

that he could not ride his bike anymore:  finally he
left this world in that song he’d sing if you gave him

a buffalo-nickel:  Wilma Lee and Stoney Cooper
did not know Earl:  they would have liked him, as they

loved those sacred songs like “Legend of the Dogwood
Tree,” “Thirty Pieces of Silver,” and “Tramp on the

Street”:  “He was Mary’s own Darling, God’s Chosen
One and they left him to die like a tramp on the street”:

Wilma Lee, Valley Head, West Virginia, part of the
Leary Family Band, with Stoney, too:  their friend

Cowboy Copas was from Muskogee, Oklahoma.

Shelby Stephenson‘s Family Matters:  Homage to July, the Slave Girl won the 2008 Bellday Poetry Prize, Allen Grossman, judge. Shelby Stephenson’s Maytle’s World is forthcoming from Evening Street Press. A chapbook, Play My Music Anyhow is just out from Finishing Line.