The Ballad Singers

The Ballad Singers
by Kathryn Stripling Byer

They had no use
for such romance as clings
like the stubbornest

ivy. Those gypsy-black boots
in the stirrups,
those gay golden rings left

behind on a pillow, what good
to them, nursing their babies
and watching the gangplanks beginning

to rise on the ships named Prosperity,
Rainbow, Glorious
Memory? Having no say

in their journey, they came
here. They stood
on the high ridges, listening

into the ceaseless
wind sounding the bedrock
of what lay beyond them.

At nightfall they pulled shut
the doors of their cabins
and blew out their lanterns.

They waited.
What else could they do?
But when they sang

their solitude into
those old songs of love
and betrayal, each verse

must have called like a path
to them, braving the laurel
hells, rockslides

and bottomless chasms.
How else journey
into those distances

where they heard night
after night in the new world
the dark itself howl

like a woman cast into
the wilderness? One by
one, I see them open their mouths.

Here I am,
they sing,
having become their own voices.

     Black Shawl: Poems
     Louisiana State University Press, March 1998

Laura Boosinger, Sheila Kay Adams Sings the Old Ballads of the North Carolina Mountains, Down the Road on the Blue Ridge Music Trails, May 1, 2017.

The Ballad Singers