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Music from Small Towns


No one is nearby to give lessons, but boys willing
        to needle L-O-V-E and H-A-T-E into their knuckles long before

they sniff the damp walls of a jail cell would not listen
        if there were. Drummers learn rhythm by chopping wood,

guitar players find a few chords and sniff nail polish
        or glue before practice. Since they have nothing

to sing about, that is what they sing. The secret is playing
        long enough to allow the houses where they sleep, the stores

where they buy magazines and gum, the parking lots where fathers
        or brothers ground them in the harmonies of pedal

and clutch, all to find room to breathe inside that nothing.
        The ones who have not driven those streets hear

red lights and blood, car wrecks, crazy sisters, the cost
        of living a life you know you will never understand.

Dust and pollen film windshields, a tire sighs flat.
        Imperfection might prove one form of salvation.

On the sidewalk, a bird that broke its neck
        flying into a window washed too clean.

Empty chords ring out, called for
        by natives and strangers when the runaway sons

glare and play their version of a place
        that didn't know it had a name before it became a song.


Al Maginnes

The Georgia Review

Summer 2013


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