He Sings Ballads

He Sings Ballads
by Jim Wayne Miller

He guessed he knew a hundred of the old songs
his people sang when they came from across the waters:
The Knight in the Road, The Turkish Lady, and such like.

He couldn’t recall a time when he didn’t know them.
His grandfather sang them, and his father, too.
When the right mood took him, he sang them still.

And when he sang, the scholars gathered around.
They said he was a marvel, a great find.
It was hard to believe there was anyone like him left.

But when he’d leave the homeplace down in Madison,
and go up to Asheville and find work as a gardener
at some of the fine houses there, his neck turned red.

When he drank in the bars down on Lexington Avenue,
and sang the country songs right off the jukebox,
the big mirror running behind the bar

saw nothing but white trash.

And five hundred third-rate novels claimed him.

     The Briar Poems
     Gnomon Press, January 1, 1997

He Sings Ballads