Because I know her name from rock and roll biographies and the legendary death of her first husband, because I grew up hearing her voice on my father’s folk records, because I love the myths that accompany music almost as much as I love music, I should have gone to see her when she was booked into the coffeehouse run by a church whose articles of faith have been held secret from all but the devout, because better than teachers and classmates I remember those times a line from a song chilled or awakened me from the seemingly endless sleep that is childhood, and she, as much as any, could claim some of those moments. But I did not want to hear her if it meant I would have to be proselytized by shiny- faced acolytes of the brand of salvation peddled there with coffee and cookies, and why would she be singing in such a place if she was not a walker on that secret path. Still, my whole family sang her songs, those quick instances of harmony rising from [End Page 139] the record’s dusty grooves to claim a place in the myth of my family as well as in the rock and roll myths I once memorized the way others learn scripture. Like most who went to hear her, I would have only been there to gaze briefly on the altar of her past, not to hear her new songs or her new faith Faith is what we have left once we survive, even though we owe our past the kindness of a visit now and then. Time might have warmed and deepened her voice that could once reach high enough to freeze bone at its marrow, but I didn’t go and now whenever I read or hear her name I’ll know she was right down the street, singing songs I don’t remember not knowing, Even if all she had done was chant the famous names of her dead husband or her new god, even if she denied completely or insisted upon being defined by her past, even if time has done to her what it has done to all of us, I should have gone.
Al Maginnes is the author of six poetry collections, most recently Ghost Alphabet, which won the 2007 White Pine Poetry Prize. He lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, and teaches at Wake Technical Community College.
Ed. Note: “Legend” is from Ghost Alphabet, winner of the 2007 White Pine Poetry Prize, and is reprinted here courtesy of the author. [End Page 140]