Priscilla Long

The Glacier
Issue One
Fall 2022

Learning Old-Time Banjo

Custodians with rusted keys keep the carved box
locked that holds the creak of hickory in the wind
or rocking chairs. Whatever came out with the gnats
and fireflies on long summer evenings put rotting logs
in the air, the smell of Cripple Creek and moonshine
and Old Molly Hare's cigar. The twang of rusted strings
drifted into sagging porches where God only knows who
kissed whose cherry lips over all those years. 
I drink in moonlight parsed by oak leaves.
Once on my way back from the outhouse an owl
brushed my face, like some sort of night angel, its low note
in minor key. I stood there like a pause between tunes.
But then the other insomniac in the house began thumping
 on his banjo’s skin head. I started in again, clogging 
in perfect time. All I could think was Time Drawing Near. 
But the beat was syncopate and I knew my time 
was not come. Nor is Africa a library catalog with drawers
 for drumbeats or masks or mystical ancestors. 
With each downbeat, the keening of the drone. 
Playing Shoes and Stockings is like drawing taffy
 from the deep past. Sweet. Say some old man 
leaves behind the broken bits of his fiddle: pegs
and screws, neck, bridge, button and tailpiece, 
chin rest, side rib, peg box, fingerboard, f-hole,
 and gut strings, and say the only tune that it could play
was Drunken Hiccups. Pluck and knock, pluck and knock
and at the end of a long night, the ringing silence.	

PRISCILLA LONG is author most recently of Dancing with the Muse in Old Age (Coffeetown, 2022). Her second book of poems, Holy Magic (MoonPath Press), won the Sally Albiso Poetry Book Award. She is a Seattle-based writer of poetry, creative nonfiction, science, history, and fiction, and a long-time independent teacher of writing. Her awards include a National Magazine Award for a science-based feature. Her first book of poems is Crossing Over: Poems (University of New Mexico Press). Her other books are The Writer’s Portable Mentor: A Guide to Art, Craft, and the Writer’s Life (University of New Mexico Press), a collection of memoirist essays, Fire and Stone: Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? (University of Georgia Press), and Minding the Muse: A Handbook for Painters, Composers, Writers, and Other Creators (Coffeetown). Her first book was Where the Sun Never Shines: A History of America’s Bloody Coal Industry. She grew up on a dairy farm on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.

Artwork by David Dodd Lee.
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