Becoming Banjo

This entry is part 31 of 34 in the series Breakdown: The Banjo Poems


I could’ve been
many things—doctor,
lawyer, beggarman, CEO—
but not a banjo. They stopped
taking applications
the moment I was born.
Though a few months earlier,
a big-headed embryo in
the womb, I might’ve had
at least a fat chance.
What a headline that
would’ve made for
the Weekly World News!
Woman Gives Birth to Banjo.
My life might’ve become
a Stuart Little-like quest,
riding the rails north
toward the great bear,
the cosmic gourd.
Ah, the tailored furs
I’d have worn, the round
houses I’d have inhabited,
built from snow!
The moon & sun would’ve
circled in the sky,
unwilling to set. The land
would’ve glistened like
a shaman’s hide drum
for conversing with the dead.
And the dead like all emigrants
would’ve babbled incoherently
from the other side,
unable to send back
the right medicine
for our breakdowns, & we
still unready to abandon
our mother tongues.

The Fretless Banjo

This entry is part 32 of 34 in the series Breakdown: The Banjo Poems


It’s like walking in the dark
or chewing on a good-luck tooth:
a map doesn’t always help
& no vowel can be trusted.
Which is why the Israelites
dispensed with both. But
we have lived here in Canaan
so long, we’ve forgotten
about ties & collars
& all the other uses to which
a neck can be put. Jubilee
comes every day at noon, now,
& the Adam’s apple never falls
far before bouncing back.
Goats can get by, I swear,
on the notes no one else sings.
It’s like the glass ball
in an antique lightning rod—
its highest aspiration is
to break free. The night itself
doesn’t need more than
a few hardy katydids
to throb. Who are we
that we should fret
over bars of brass?

Out of Tune

This entry is part 33 of 34 in the series Breakdown: The Banjo Poems


Round peg in a round hole:
too cozy! It only needs to relax
the slightest bit & the whole
song fails, like a machine
with one slipped gear.

We hold our breaths then
for the single-string walk,
up up up up to pitch. Ah!
And the tune clatters back to life
with a whoop. (One hates to see
John Hardy get away.)

Rare as an heirloom,
particular as an orchid,
miraculous as spring water
flowing from a tap
& durable as a razor strop
is the banjo player’s ear.
It’s the only instrument
in the band that can’t
break down.

Ohio man accused of killing wife with banjos

This entry is part 34 of 34 in the series Breakdown: The Banjo Poems


found poem from Cox News Service

A 63-year-old man bludgeoned his wife to death
yesterday morning with a pair of banjos, deputies said.

“I’ve been an officer for 30 years, and that’s
the first banjo killing I’ve seen,” said
Miami County Chief Deputy Charles Price.
Edward Benson has been charged with aggravated murder
and was being held in the Miami County Jail in lieu
of $50,000 cash bond. Mr. Price said

Mr. Benson beat his wife, Katie, with the musical instruments
in their home about 5 a.m. “She was beaten with
a banjo in the head. When it was destroyed,
a second banjo was used,” Mr. Price said.

The woman died en route to Stouder
Memorial Hospital in Troy. She suffered
massive head injuries, Mr. Price said.

Authorities aren’t sure what led
to the beating. Mr. Price said

deputies hadn’t had any other domestic
violence complaints at the home in recent years.
Deputies were dispatched to the scene at 5:01 a.m.
after Mr. Benson phoned 911, saying

his wife was in need of paramedics.
Mr. Benson also immediately called an attorney, who
arrived at the scene and advised him not to answer
investigators’ questions. Neighbors said

they didn’t hear any disturbances from
the home yesterday. They were awakened
by deputies. Ralph Wolfe, whose house is
in front of the Bensons’, said

Mr. Benson had told him he played the banjo
in a bluegrass band. The Bensons had seven adult children
and many grandchildren. They lived alone.
Mr. Benson had medical problems that prevented him
from working, deputies and neighbors said.