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.