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Duet


Baylis Ritchie of Viper,
Kentucky, near skeletal
in this picture with his
famous daughter Jean,
picks a Cumberland
dulcimer with a willow
switch, as his girl's hands

do the same, mirror each
note and drone. He wrote
"with that music you could
make a mountain ring,"
and today along the Blue
Ridge anyone with a fine
ear can hear, keen eye can

see peaks he summoned,
forests of spruce, red cedar,
oak and rosewood, any
grain you'd need to shape
a dulcimer, but don't even
bother wishing you could play
hourglass or teardrop zither

so sweetly as Jean and Baylis,
who plucked and strummed
as one breath on "Pretty Saro,"
with that magic of kinship,
a gift now nearly gone
to clearcut and ground fog,
hawk call and tainted wind,

all the follies of modern man,
though if you peer hard
enough into this grainy
photo and listen with your
heart's full force, you can, I
swear, hear that whisper—sweet
pea, creeper, trillium, creek

moss and homespun melody—
locals call "blood harmony."
Their pegs? Cut from a poplar.
Fretboards: bittersweet cherry.
Their "Wildwood Flower"—voices
elegant with lore and love—still
echoes through this ornery valley,

sweetens honey, sharpens stings,
makes the blessed mountain ring.


R. T. Smith

The Carolina Quarterly

Spring/Summer 2017


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