Every Saturday, my grandmother drives her brother Bill
along the shoulder of 44 where sun falls into the low
ginkgo’s and a two-lane road emerges to a bear-sized
Country Music sign, lit up by dozens of shining bulbs.
Bright like the Lord came to Shepardsville for the songs.
Inside the barn, framed photos of cowboys are hammered
into wood. Flies flit in and out of coffee cans filled
with donations. Pickles and popcorn are for sale
in a dark corner by the red curtain opening and unfurling
like a rose. Cut-outs of half notes and guitars dangle above
the stage like bats. Styrofoam cups litter the grass floor.
Everyone sits as the emcee emerges in a crimson glitter dress.
Hair, a blonde ball of spray and curl. The drum kicks in
and everyone stands for God Bless America.
The 44 Country Band jams while the emcee leaves
for a costume change. It goes on like that for a while,
memory completing its dim work over the crowd.
Nostalgia sweeping through rows the way wind lifts clothes.
Some of us out here cry during I Will Forever Hate Roses.
Someone floats through everyone’s mind for Goodnight Irene.
Orbison always lifts my grandmother out of her chair,
and I leap too. Bill nods and smiles like he remembers
his wife’s name is Carolyn. After the song reel is spent,
spectators sway into the aisle where in the glowing dark,
the curtains lower. Then the emcee sweeps into the crowd,
saying don’t you go anywhere, one hand shaking like a tambourine.
What I’m getting at is this: my grandmother brings
her brother to the country music show every weekend.
The heartache music helps him remember who he is.
When he asks for his wife I sing, the singing almost becomes
screaming then. The feel of being hooked against the sky.
The Bill I knew once stood over a map of Louisville, spread
out on the driveway, shook a slab of sheet metal over the paper
city, and called it Thunder Over Louisville. I cannot explain
how I traced the rim of his sleeve in search of his hand, floating
up into the kingdom of song like a balloon. When he asks again,
the whole barn pulses with strobe light, emits clouds of dust
with every stomp, and it’s either too loud or I feel too sorry
to say her name over the drum-kicks. After the horse-tailed
bow pulls across a fiddle string for the last time, after the Stetsons
are removed and the band deep-bows, the tops of their heads
like grass sat in for too long, the mic cuts out, and a great quiet
shuffles toward the heat outside. Uncle Bill leans
on my grandmother too much, forgetting his own weight
so I hold his other arm and we slow-step, follow the rhythm
of the world toward the car. It’s 80 degrees after nine.
He asks if anyone remembers the way he played blackjack
in Vegas as a young man. In 1974, he gambled for so long
his back threw out. Left the casino on a gurney. He says it
every Saturday, as though speaking from the next room over.