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Melanie Culbertson
Yet Another Lullaby

for David Kazee, musician and beloved friend (1959-2010)

I wonder how your fingers that graced piano keys
like wings of fragile birds could even touch a gun.
I wonder of your last view of Mash Fork,
of the valley you held so dear. I wish for the sliver of a moon,
deer running free across a field, like the last time
I was there. I saw you too at church, sitting by yourself,
lonesome, like you’d never looked before.

I wish I had hugged you and sat next to you just like I wish
my husband and I had had coffee with you on your huge porch
the last time you asked. Now there are no wishes left,
only stars.

What if you had waited to see the morning? There could not
have been mourning, never a more beautiful day than October 13,
sun so low one could touch it and not burn, yet the world on fire,
all red and gold. Didn’t you see it? After all,
surely you only were just asleep.

You are so much more than that body, with your genius gift
of lullabies, who would not leave Mash Fork,
who would run down the hill to make sure my father,
your neighbor with heart trouble, was not working too hard in the heat,
you who said few unkind words about anyone,
even though it takes more than one to pull
a trigger. Were we all lulled into thinking how easy
it all was for you? How easy to be Dave and sing the days
away. Did you ever get to dance at a wedding
at which you sang?

To forget that body, my mother burns the brush you cut
in her chimney at night, the warm flames rising
to where you are. She takes her solitary walk
beside the hillside grave where you lie,
still praying and singing because she can’t cease and ah,
that sunny day, rows of cars lined one side
of that narrow country road, snaking around that hill
like a groaning train, so many feet pressed against
the earth above that hardly a blade of grass
could be seen.

We are so much more than our bodies.
Because of you, I pluck at my piano
into the wee hours, drink from the cup of a friend,
sit a spell next to one alone, if he looks lonesome.

You would. In this world and even
on Mash Fork, plenty of elderly fathers working
in the heat need tending to, if we only pay attention.

Maybe there are some “next times” left,
a wish after all. Close our eyes
tight enough, maybe even two.

I promise, beloved friend, to keep
Mash Fork sweet, its creek across from
your house, my old house flowing on, even if
only a trickle. Sweet for my father still
cute in his little boy cap and suspenders
who forgets himself and looks up
at your porch when getting his morning mail,
expecting you to wave. Sweet for my mother
humming by her chimney, who really burns the brush
because you cut it with your own hands.
(Someday they will join you in the warm earth
of the little hill, all good company.)

Sweet for a John David, who looks like his father.
On down the road: sweet for your mother, who will never
scream that way again. Sweet for your father who still can’t go
where you lie, amber quiet now.

You are always the song, even still,
so when he is ready, as he grows near,
may his slow but firm steps,
and echoes of the many others’,
sound to you not like grief
but like a dance.

Note: David Kazee directed music at both the Mountain Arts Center in Prestonsburg and the First Baptist Church in Salyersville. He built and ran single-handedly a music studio at his home on Mash Fork Road, in Salyersville, where he recorded music for people across the nation. He was a devout Christian who taught music to many young people, giving them positive things to strive for. His death is a loss to not only the region, but far beyond.

Melanie Culbertson, a Salyersville native living in Louisville, is assistant professor of English at Ivy Tech Community College in Sellersburg, Indiana. She also teaches as an adjunct instructor at Spalding University in Louisville and formerly taught at the University of Evansville, Indiana. She earned an M.F.A. in creative writing at Indiana University and has published fiction in The American Literary Review, Beloit Fiction Journal, Puerto del Sol, The Louisville Review, and others. She was nominated for two national Pushcart Prizes.

 

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