Plunking the rusty washtub basswas simple, tautening or relaxing its ropeso that a few thumping notesrose or fell at the floor of a bluegrass tune.And it wasn't that hard to squeezesome buzzing chords from the budget guitar
when the rehearsers took a breakto step outside the basement for some cokes.But cousin Marc was the only onestubborn and patient enough to teach himselfto play, fiercely as Scruggs, the banjo:he'd stand perfectly still, head tilted forward,
watching his big pale hands flashingas if they weren't part of his body anymore,the right one with slipped-on picksspeedily crawling among the twanging stringsstretched over the full-moon belly,the left one racing along sharp steel wires
up and down that skinny neckuntil his finger pads started bleeding again,fresh calluses splitting as he played"Foggy Mountain Breakdown" one more time,my cousin only wincing slightly asthe music scarred and healed his flying touch.
Michael McFee teaches poetry writing at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He has published ten collections of poetry (most recently That Was Oasis), a collection of essays (The Napkin Manuscripts), and three anthologies, including The Language They Speak Is Things to Eat: Poems by Fifteen Contemporary North Carolina Poets.
From That Was Oasis, published by Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2012. [End Page 111]