The Banjo

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The Banjo

by Michael McFee
Southern Cultures, Vol. 19, No. 1: Global Music

". . . until his finger pads started bleeding again, fresh calluses splitting as he played . . ."

Plunking the rusty washtub bass
was simple, tautening or relaxing its rope
so that a few thumping notes
rose or fell at the floor of a bluegrass tune.
And it wasn’t that hard to squeeze
some buzzing chords from the budget guitar

when the rehearsers took a break
to step outside the basement for some cokes.
But cousin Marc was the only one
stubborn and patient enough to teach himself
to play, fiercely as Scruggs, the banjo:
he’d stand perfectly still, head tilted forward,

watching his big pale hands flashing
as if they weren’t part of his body anymore,
the right one with slipped-on picks
speedily crawling among the twanging strings
stretched over the full-moon belly,
the left one racing along sharp steel wires

up and down that skinny neck
until his finger pads started bleeding again,
fresh calluses splitting as he played
“Foggy Mountain Breakdown” one more time,
my cousin only wincing slightly as
the music scarred and healed his flying touch.

From That Was Oasis, published by Carnegie Mellon University Pres, 2012.

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