The Hollow Log Lounge: Poems

The Hollow Log Lounge: Poems

by R. T. Smith

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University of Illinois Press
Publication date:
Illinois Poetry Series
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5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x 0.60(d)

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The Hollow Log Lounge


By R. T. Smith


Copyright © 2003 R. T. Smith
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-252-07137-9



    One Man's Sanctuary in Opelika, Alabama

    Names count, and some buck called this hideout
    the Hollow Log after its den dark and a stuffed
    fox snarling over the bar. I park on a stool to kill
    surplus brain cells and fuzzle my memory with spirits.
    I study sweet Miss Pattie in her fishnet tights,
    watch folks frisk by neon light to slow down the dying
    or guarantee they'll live to see one more dawn as bright
    as the drummer's jumbo cymbal. We live off the lean
    of the land and keep the wolf from the door. Signs
    at the state line declare We dare defend our rights,
    but we really live by Dixie, Roll, Tide, or War Eagle,
    and when the jukebox twangles out the lead-in
    to "Stars Fell on Alabama," I commence to feel
    neighborly enough to cross the dance floor and invite
    the lady with curls red as vixen fur and a local grin
    to help me shake off alimony and bills long overdue.
    I'm already stepping lightly, all confident and male,
    rolling sleeves past my heart and eagle tattoos.
    I'll have one more before they shut off the lights.
    My name is Sam Buckhannon. This is no fairy tale.
    It's all fantastic and bizarre and true. It's my life,
    a raspy song that sounds better if you sing along.

    Confession in a Booth at the
    Hollow Log Lounge

    I seam towels for Dundee over in Georgia,
    a non-union sweatshop with a dozen
    rows of them blue glass windows all around.
    Some of 'em says it's like a church.
    Been there fourteen years, since just before
    me and Hubert said vows at Devotee Baptist.
    We've been divorced since eighty-four.
    Seems he had another woman on the side.
    Yessir, I been cold and warmed my hands
    at the motor of my jury-rigged machine,
    been Florida-hot and deaf from the fans
    that don't do a damn bit of earthly good,
    for me at least. I'm right fleshy, as you
    can see. Been so hot I'd get the hives
    and swell up like sourdough rising, but
    I hardly miss a sick day, you understand.
    I hate the feel when another woman's
    been sewing on my machine. Substitutes
    will break a needle or jack the floating
    bobbin out of line. They don't give a hoot.
    It ain't like they got a steady station
    or reputation to uphold. This working's
    almost a moral thing, Preacher Wilkes
    would say, like marriage, and every thread
    has got to be caught in the hem's edge
    so the whole towel won't ravel first time
    some salesman in a motel or shoe clerk
    in his own home after a sweaty day
    dries off from a cold shower bath. You see,
    I know it don't take no giant brain
    to sit behind a Singer machine and stitch
    hour after hour, but I'm proud just the same.
    I'm regular as a clock, and I don't dare fiddle
    with another worker's machine. Some nights
    I lie in my bed, once was my mother's,
    and watch the gas flame jump beautiful blue
    as the mill's windows and wonder how many
    skins have been wiped dry on my towels,
    and whose. It gives me a blushy pride
    right on the edge of sleep. I'm over here
    tonight with my sister Lily and her husband,
    Buddy, supposed to be having a fine time
    instead of talking my whole life at you.
    This country and western band, specially
    the drummer in a blue silk shirt, makes me
    want to eat a hot pig's foot, drink beer,
    and shake my tail. Let's show 'em a thing
    or two. You ain't married just now, are you?

    A Local Doc, over Rocky Lunchtime
    Bourbon, Speaks of Barter and
    Hopeful Home Remedies

    Nostrums? Lordy, I have seen them all.
    Alcohol's the favorite. Many a quack's
    panacea bottled in a cellar and hawked
    from door to door is thriving still.

    Bindweed's supposed to heal a bruise.
    Cherokee remedies still survive,
    and slave recipes—hyssop, juniper, chives.
    Waitress, freshen this elixir, if you please.

    One day a hefty woman who works a loom
    down at Pepperell Mills sauntered in
    with no appointment and perched herself prim
    as an English queen in the waiting room.

    What happened next? For a prolapsed
    uterus, folk medicine recommends
    inserting an Irish potato. It works,
    if you can stand the weight, my friends.

    Well, she'd relied on that specific
    since winter. We'd hit, you understand, July,
    and her complaint, not one bit shy,
    was, Leaves in my Virginia. Not beatific,

    no, but she was composed, no maniac,
    and it made some sense. What better place
    than a protected pocket, warm and moist?
    But the spud had sprouted, sent runners amok.

    You never know in these flatland burley
    counties if your manual skills will bloom
    as sawbones or private gardener. Deftly,
    I removed the obstruction and took it home.

    I've raised a whole colony in my window box,
    and bake, fry, or boil, I'm proud as hell
    of this year's crop. The woman paid her bill
    with eggs and applejack. Life is a paradox.

    Now I've got to rush back and tend my flock.
    Got appointments at four—a pregnant lady,
    a leg to set, twins to inspect for chicken pox,
    and Marvin with his routine emergency.

    I guess you could say my practice is thriving.
    Drop by, and I'll fry you up some shallot
    hash browns in Margie's seasoned skillet,
    a flavor I can promise is sure to revive

    any ailing soul. Where do I get my onions?
    Don't ask. The whole sweet world is a garden.

    Charlene Sperry on Safe Beauty

    What I imbibe is a Virgin Mary—
    tomato juice, Tabasco, and a stalk of celery.
    No vodka, so I can watch the world clearly.

    From what I see, this life is bloody
    and dirty enough without whiskey,
    which is alcohol and might explode.

    And dancing's as bad. You breathe deep
    and sweat like when you're angry
    or in lust. It makes you look cheap,

    except the waltz and Texas two-step,
    where you touch, but just barely.
    Mostly hands. I won't paint my lips

    or let my skirt slip above my knees.
    No smoking, pool shooting, or dirty
    words. That pink in my cheeks is me,

    not rouge, and undyed hair is my glory.
    It's no sin to be pert, but nothing coy
    or skimpy or too tight. Don't worry,

    I'm not the type to judge others harshly.
    That would be a sorry twist. I testify
    for Jesus when I get a fellow eye-to-eye.

    Like now. You know, it's a tragedy
    how even upright folks will sully
    the precious gifts of the Lord—modesty

    not the least. If they studied scripture
    they'd know about the coming Rapture
    and what the hungry Devil has in mind.

    I've got six friends who agree exactly.
    We get together every Tuesday
    and call our little clique Safe Beauty.

    It's our Born Again self-defense,
    but we also learned Christian karate
    to keep our bones from harm. Good sense

    tells us death happens. There's no drink
    can change it. It was peach brandy
    in fifths taught me that. Now I want to free

    everybody from the pain. What do you think
    evil is if not the lack of sympathy?
    Your patrons—getting down or high or randy—

    need to sober up and quit this tomfoolery.
    Lord, can't these poor benighted people see
    the world is an emergency?

    Flat-footing on Bluegrass Night:
    Dorsey Hostetter Explains It
    All to a Stranger

    Banjo picks flash silver
    as twilight on fast water,
    and a Goshen oldster steps out
    and drifts to the dance floor's
    center. Born kicking
    in the Blue Ridge to hard luck
    and hardscrabble, he can still rise
    limber in the spell of a fiddle.

    Pivot and crossover, he bucks
    the wing, his body stiff
    but feet in time with "Sugar
    Hill," as his friends step back
    to let him shine. His trouser
    pleats are sharp as hoe steel,
    but he is clogging deep in bliss,
    hot licks and hotter rosin,

    as he follows Greg Hooven
    bowing a freight train
    straight from heaven,
    and a solo whippoorwill
    outside in the treeline
    adds his three-note trill
    to the dobro's drone. Hold still,
    then join in the dance,

    for what on earth, after all,
    is beauty if not this moving
    fast while nearly holding
    still? Now click your heels
    and get frisky. Footwork's
    the best gift we have to offer
    mountain children, pass it on
    along with "Cherokee Rose"

    and "Cold Jordan"'s moan,
    which leaves us tapping toes
    and hoping hard as we go down
    the dark road winding home.

    He Gets Nostalgic in the Hollow Log Lounge
    Just Before Friday Night's Last Call

    There's talk from locals that a girl can prove
    her virtue by tying a cherry stem in two
    with her unassisted tongue. My last love

    could do it with ease, if gin's bitter shot
    tamed the cherry's sweet taste to tart, but
    she proved to be untrue, and I'm a lowdown sot

    if it didn't cut me deep in the gut
    when she left with a peg-legged guitar man.
    She could shimmy, shiver, shake, and strut,

    and I miss her a bunch. The way this band
    plays "Let's Go Juking" brings her fancy dance
    moves to my mind, and I say cherries be damned

    and all other tests of eternal romance.
    I'd shovel rock salt at the pickle plant
    on graveyard shift to fandango in her trance.

    Pick It, Squirrel:
    Steve Gresham Sees the Light

    Under the flashing stage lights six men
    from far upriver strum the stand-up bass,
    the git-box, banjo, fiddle. "Uncle Pen,"
    "Fox on the Run"—a solo, a riff, a blend,
    bottle glass sliding across a Gibson's neck,
    until all eyes light on a scarecrow picker
    in tight Levis and a burgundy shirt,
    his white hair brushed to a rooster's shock.
    He is beautifully strangling a mandolin,
    but is he mouthing a grimace or a grin?
    Short, and old as Elvis would have been, skin
    strawberry, eyes jaybird blue, teeth bucked.
    Oh, how can mortal fingers fly so quick?
    As a drunk disciple shouts, "Pick it, Squirrel,"
    I yearn to see such savage vision. Squirrel,
    what secret do you see tuning this world
    narrowed by your squint? You can lead us
    beside still waters, fret the Devil's dream,
    splitting the air with your wild discipline.
    Not even the fiddler can play this nimble.
    You've got the fire and down-home sizzle
    in service to life swirled in live-wire frenzy,
    saying praise must outshine the ordinary,
    as if being on the trail to bliss were easy.
    Give us an old-time run to burn out sin.
    Tickle those strings till we shiver and spin.     Deliver us from evil. Beseech and bewail.
    Pick it now, Squirrel, you blessed man.


Excerpted from The Hollow Log Lounge by R. T. Smith. Copyright © 2003 by R. T. Smith. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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