Organs, harmonicas, mouth-organs, mandolins, banjoes, zithers, rhythms-tambourines,
Bells on ankles and feet-pianos, drums−singers-crooners, teardrops in their voices,
Pain in their hearts, yodelers, rappers, talkers, twisters, sisters, brothers, mothers, fathers:
Little Jimmy Dickens, Wade Ray, Ray Price, Hank, Webb Pierce, Red Foley,
Earl Scruggs, Bill Bolick, Mahalia, B. B., Ray−
Marty Robbins’s teardrops, Leon Payne’s “Lost Highway,”
Hank’s “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” “Give My Love to Rose”-Johnny Cash,
Reba, Dolly, Porter, Sonny, Johnny and Jack, Zimmerman, Dylan, Tom T., Patsy,
Little Richard, Aretha, Thomas A. Dorsey-“Precious Lord, Take My Hand,”
“Peace in the Valley”-Elvis-
Jerry Lee, Faron, Ferlin, Gimbel,
Isaacs, Jerry Byrd, Emmons, McCauliffe,
Jimmy Day, Noel Boggs, Josh Graves.
Waylon, Willie−and you−the Rose of my heart−
Foot-pats! Whiskey and chicken-wire−dust on floors−smell the popcorn, dogs, pop,
Beer, the stench of unspeakable toilets, Briarhopper Club-the American Legion,
The Moose Lodge.
The chittlins of my childhood come from what’s in them.
O smell of smells!
Cracklins crackle in a washpot.
You can smell them in Detroit or San Francisco.
I smell the cow’s bag, too, warm and liquid-doused,
My brother bunching her tits and sniffling the warm,
White foam steaming streams into the bucket clasped between his legs.
Fat-back sizzles in the pan.
The fishmeal smells up the feed-room.
The strings vibrate in my throat; words touch strains of death.
I do not feel the casket.
I touch my eyes for the Stephenson oval.
I smooth my clothes and walk away with Not Knowing.
Shelby Stephenson's Family Matters: Homage to July, the Slave Girl won the 2008 Bellday Poetry Prize, Allen Grossman, judge.