Issue 11, December 2013
{ Dr. Twang Once Had }
by Tim Hunt
a real name—Bobby Bob 
Smith or Emmanuel Heath Edwards
Clinton, or some such,

But even he was hard-pressed
To remember it. He was
Twang, or simply Doc. Think of him

In profile, black Stetson
Slicing a pale moon, a street
Lamp trailing the frame's edge

As he strides the empty sidewalk, 
Guitar case in hand, toward some dingy room
After the gig—years and years of road,

His once-real name fading like the ink
On a paper scrap weathering in the
Cycle of rain and sun, until one

With the ditch, and even the paper 
Fades away. Twang could
Still summon that other name,

But it no longer mattered. He was the Twang
He'd become—smoky nights,
Darkened dancers milling

The bar floors. Twang was, he knew,
Only an excuse as they lonelied with laughing
Or smugly appraising or needing

Eyes, his fingers walking yet again
The touch-worn rosewood of the guitar's
Neck. Twang knew all the tricks—

How to pick right at the bridge to get 
That cue ball click, how to run the table
Like Lester Flatt's G-run on a Martin 

D-28, and the slow bends up the neck so the strings
Sounded like slow dance denim
On the jeans she shouldn't wear. He knew 

The pulls and slurs, the hammer-ons
That made each walk of the strings
Never the same as tossed lick after lick

Onto Friday night cologne laced
Atop the cigarette haze and spilled beer 
Smell, like foam on a wave. 

He knew they never really listened, or rather
They listened through him, hearing 
Their needs and wants. Twang remembered

Driving a back road off the two-lane
Between Reno and Vegas. To the East,
A bit of rain along a far ridge, the cloud 

A torn pillow trailing its stuffing, 
The smell across the dry of the desert 
Sharp as an old mattress rank with pee.

He didn't remember why he'd turned
West at the whorehouse, the idling semis 
Sticking out like spokes from the manufactured

Homes circled up like wagon train wagons
In a western movie. But two valleys
Into the mountains he passed an old Airstream

Set up from the road where a dirt track
Wound back, perhaps to one of those mines
That had paid big back when Tonapah

Was a place to be instead of pass through.
Even from the road Twang could see
The dents on the Airstream's body

And sense the oxidized pitting that dulled
The aluminum skin as if it were a beer can
Tossed into the ditch, and Twang saw

The windows—open, white curtains
Cheap, Pennys or K-Mart, where they'd looked
Lacy through the plastic, now dulled

In the sun but still trying to be something
Nice. After that it no longer mattered 
That he was just an occasion. Each night

He wrapped himself in the smoke of their cigarettes
And gave what he could. His fingers 
No longer played notes, no longer walked

The paths he'd learned. Twang followed
Where they led, each night playing
For the girl who put up the curtains

And for the shadowed space within
The pitted trailer and for relief
From the shadowed space which was

The darkened neon of their dancing.
Each night he played as if their needs 
Were blessings they offered. Each night

He played for them, and himself, 
And he played for the sky beyond the evening's 
Smoky room and the empty space beyond

The trailer, and when he could
He played, too, for the wind—
The ever-patient ostinato to the coyotes'

Laugh in those hours after the bars
Have closed.

   

Tim Hunt's publications include the collections Fault Lines and The Tao of Twang (forthcoming) and the chapbooks Redneck Yoga and Thirteen Ways of Talking to a Blackbird. He has been awarded the Chester H. Jones National Poetry Prize and twice nominated for the Pushcart Prize. He and his wife Susan live in Normal, Illinois.