Legend

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Legend

by Al Maginnes
Southern Cultures, Vol. 15, No. 3: Music

". . . we owe our past the kindness of a visit now and then."

Because I know her name from
rock and roll biographies
and the legendary death
of her first husband, because
I grew up hearing her voice
on my father’s folk records,
because I love the myths
that accompany music
almost as much as I love
music, I should have gone
to see her when she was booked
into the coffeehouse run
by a church whose articles
of faith have been held secret
from all but the devout,
because better than teachers
and classmates I remember
those times a line from a song
chilled or awakened me from
the seemingly endless sleep
that is childhood, and she,
as much as any, could claim
some of those moments. But
I did not want to hear her if
it meant I would have to be
proselytized by shiny-
faced acolytes of the brand
of salvation peddled there
with coffee and cookies,
and why would she be singing
in such a place if she was not
a walker on that secret path.
Still, my whole family sang
her songs, those quick instances
of harmony rising from
the record’s dusty grooves
to claim a place in the myth
of my family as well
as in the rock and roll myths
I once memorized
the way others learn scripture.
Like most who went to hear her,
I would have only been there
to gaze briefly on the altar
of her past, not to hear her
new songs or her new faith
Faith is what we have left
once we survive, even though
we owe our past the kindness
of a visit now and then.
Time might have
warmed and deepened her voice
that could once reach high enough
to freeze gone at its marrow,
but I didn’t go and now
whenever I read or hear
her name I’ll know she was
right down the street, singing songs
I don’t remember not knowing,
Even if all she had done
was chant the famous names
of her dead husband or her
new god, even if she denied
completely or insisted
upon being defined by
her past, even if time has
done to her what it has done
to all of us, I should have gone.

Ed. Note: “Legend” is from Ghost Alphabet, winner of the 2007 White Pine Poetry Prize, and is reprinted here courtesy of the author.

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