Bluegrass Interlude (What the Banjo Said)

by William Jolliff Issue: Fall 2015
That's quite a stack of papers. I can just see your lips over the top.  
They're not smiling. Your eyes are all crinkly. Do please nod my way
when you want a break. Maybe you need a quick one right now.

How about let's make a rule: after every third essay we fool around
a little bit.  Not a lot, but at least a little. A little. It'll help you
speed down the pile, and it'll help the hours pass for me.

I don't mean a long session. I don't mean exercises. I don't
mean practice. No metronome. No difficult new positions.
Let's not pull out a bunch of diagrams and books. Let's just play.

That's all. Do some of those sweet licks and lay me down again.  
Play a few of the old rolls, hammer-ons, pull-offs. Only the fun stuff.
My skinny B string will still stretch ever-so-nicely if you'll just

slide your middle finger up to the tenth fret, push and pull, push, push.
Listen to that blue, blue moan I can make.
                                                                                     Umm. Did I ever tell you?
Ralph did it just that way. And Earl. Nobody could bend strings like Earl.

So how many papers do you have today? How many pages each?  
How many minutes per page? I'm not getting anxious, but it seems
like a long time since you took me in your lap. Or we can stand if. . .

I really think you'd better play me now. It's nearly afternoon.
Those hands aren't getting any younger. I'm not complaining, but
the fingers of your picking hand don't roll as quickly as they did

when you were twenty-two. And your left--it's just a little bit stiff.  
But I'll shut up. They surely do get the job done. Cliché but true,
a man makes up in experience whatever he loses in youth.  Look:

you're the one who brought me here. And you do it every Saturday.
Those papers will still be there in twenty minutes, and you'll feel
relaxed, relieved. . . .  
                                        There now. I knew I could still make you sing.

William Jolliff, originally from Magnetic Springs, Ohio, currently serves as Professor of English at George Fox University. His poetry and criticism have appeared in West Branch, Southern Humanities Review, Southern Poetry Review, Appalachian Journal, Poet Lore, Alaska Quarterly Review, and other journals. His most recent collection, Twisted Shapes of Light (2015), was published in the Poiema Poetry Series of Cascade Press.