Playing for More

by Walter Bargen

Walter Bargen

For Robert Earl Keen

He confesses that he’s played his guitar at a garage sale.
No one offered to buy a song all morning.
The woman who parked a seriously rusting Ford Fiesta
in the yard, one wheel in the mulch of the flower bed,
asked if the steel strings were for sale. She owned
a stringless guitar that set behind her sagging couch.
Her weapon of last resort, hoping to dissuade drunken
boyfriends or intruders to listen closely to the crush
of notes in her swing, the only song they were getting.

He played once at Sparky’s Foot-long Hot Dogs
on Chili Pepper Drive next to the 7-11 though he wouldn’t
say that he increased the traffic. He did make the place more crowded
with his guitar, amp, microphone, and electric cords taped to the floor.
He watched the cars pulling in and leaving next store.
He estimated 64 ounce slush drinks to dogs leashed in buns
to be running ten to one.

Finally he could afford a house
just beyond the exurbs, facing the dry rolling hills, thinly divided
by an occasional withered creek holding onto a handful
of mangy willows. It’s a thin line between isolation and solitude.
One morning he woke to his wife standing in the backyard
in panties and bra, firing a deer rifle at cats down the arroyo.
He remembered his dad saying that if he persisted with playing guitar
he’d end up digging ditches.

I listen to my wife until I step onto the porch
as the screen door slams loud as the crack of a rifle. I’m shot through
with the clarity of stars, each one declaring the sky, so it can’t fall
this night as it has so many others. The coyotes crescendo
their yapping serenade then fall into wild solos
before recalling their ensemble. I return to the kitchen’s
yellow light dull as a page not read in decades and hear again
that this is not what she wants. The solitude stark, unnerving,
dissembling, a hopeless room with no doors, bound tightly in isolation.
She’s looking for a deer rifle. Game is scarce here.
A poet is not a musician but I have read in a bookstore to one person,
stood on stage in a bar without enough light
to see the page or hear myself, and led a parade
where the crowd was one person deep for half-a-mile.
We move in one direction and that’s always away
with the stars high over our ditches.

Last updated November 07, 2022