Sunset slants its salmon light
through the open doors.
A man, whom we’re told
has recently (and only just barely)
survived the bypassing
of multiple arterial blockages
by a hotshot surgeon
down in Bowling Green,
accepts a battered house Martin,
takes the stage to perform here
for the first time in many months.
He adjusts the microphone,
toys with the tuners,
glances around the twilit barn nervously,
finally nodding at the audience
seated on long benches like church pews.
But before he can begin
a lovely woman about his age
sidles up from the side, surprises him.
She gives him a look that seems to ask
if there’s any chance of a duet,
and you don’t have to be local
to work out that there’s been
some history between them.
Enough so that when he picks
out the first notes
and begins to strum “Waltz Across Texas,”
their voices entwine, naturally,
like the fingers of the old
couples who stand and press close
and sway together
only a little more carefully
than they must have fifty-odd years ago
when this song and their love
were both newborn to the world.
Joy is a complicated matter;
it almost never arrives crystalline.
I have seen it bloom
even on the faces of broken men
buying cheap beer on the odd
Tuesday in November,
unmistakable but muddied up always,
mixed with a hint of guilt or resignation.
The singing man’s face is like that.
So is the lady’s.
You can see they are doing something
they once believed
they might never do again
and now must consider
what other dreamghosts
they might yet sing life into.
The tune is like any other tune,
and soon enough it shuffles toward an end.
But her fingers find his shoulder,
and a silent conspiracy ensues
to strum on and reprise the chorus
once, and then twice more,
as if they are terribly afraid
for the sound to stop,
afraid to step out from behind
the sweet safety of perhaps.
And then they must, and do.
The bow, the wave, the decision:
all arrive together in an instant.
She leaves him with a kiss on the cheek
that brings high color to his face,
floats out with the applause
into the soft Kentucky twilight.
The rest of the evening he can be seen
slouching, exhausted, near the back
entrance to the barn
as the regular band swings, western-style.
Every so often he runs his hand
absently over the area of his chest
where beneath his plaid shirt I imagine
must live one hell of a scar
from all this business with his heart.