Today's poem is by Betsy Sholl

Bass Line

for Milt Hinton

He needs a bigger body, bull fiddle
to make that thump, that deeper pulse, he needs

four fat inflexible strings made of gut
wrapped by steel so he can pluck each night

that tree and its strange fruit, its slumped shoulders,
and bulging eyes. . . As he fingers the neck,

as he frets, keeps the time, he can take
those naked feet hung like weights on a stopped clock.

If it's too much to say one sight winds up
a life and keeps it running, still

some things are burned into the eyes
like a maker's mark seared into walnut

belly or back, history always there,
no matter how the body is patched

and reglued, the gut and steel fine-tuned.
It's a deep groove in the brain,

whether you play on top or behind the beat,
walk the line or break out: to know a man can be

waiting for a train and because the crowd's
riled up get taken — If death unmakes him,

maybe music's a way of weeping,
of cradling the broken body,

its strained neck, its eyes that tried to jump
at what they saw, the sad hands, sad hands

that couldn't lift to brush a fly.
Night after night, rhythm wants to unwind

the wire cable from that tree, sway
the mob away from its drunken rush.

So if he humps that stiff body night
after night, if he slaps and slaps? It's to

accent the offbeat, strengthen the weak, swing
like somebody who knows, who knows what it is.

Copyright © 2006 Betsy Sholl All rights reserved
from Asheville Poetry Review
Reprinted by Verse Daily® with permission

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