I want to show you something Rachel said to Eli one night,
driving off the highway onto a narrow country road.
They managed to sneak into the unlocked red house
through the backdoor, following the “Tennessee Waltz”
to a kitchen with floral walls and a round breakfast table
around which a group of men, in their work clothes still,
had gathered to play old songs that never stop swelling.
When one tune ends, another begins at the guitarist’s lead,
the double bassist following with What key are we in?
the fiddle running in and out of the blank spaces like
melodic twine, the mandolin smiling at their guests,
who now sway by the threshold 1-2-3, 2-2-3 and hum
Now I know just how much I have lost, augural in tone. Eli,
when he thinks back on this years later, will wonder
how we end up anywhere at all, like this small enclave
of closet musicians and sweet bluegrass, underground
off a cold highway that for his whole life had led only
from one place to the next without a second’s notice,
and the waltz, though soft and distant, will ring yet clean
on late rides past the unlit house, counting in triple time.
Born and raised in Georgia, Eric Joonho is a Ph.D. candidate in English at Columbia University. His poems have appeared in West 10th, Lambda Literary, Yes, Poetry, and A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.