Pretty Polly

Who made the banjo sad & wrong?
Who made the luckless girl & hell bound boy?
Who made the ballad? The one, I mean,
where lovers gallop down mountain brush as though in love—
where hooves break ground to blood earth scent.
Who gave the boy swift words to woo the girl from home,
& the girl too pretty to leave alone? He locks one arm 
beneath her breasts as they ride on—maybe her apron comes 
undone & falls to a ditch of black-eyed susans. Maybe 
she dreams the clouds are so much flour spilt on heaven's table. 

I've run the dark county of the heart this music comes from—but 
I don't know where to hammer-on or to drop a thumb to the
haunted string that sets the story straight: All night Willie's dug 
on Polly's grave with a silver spade & every creek they cross 
makes one last splash. Though flocks of swallows loom—the one 
hung in cedar now will score the girl's last thrill. Tell
me, why do I love this sawmill-tuned melancholy song
& thud of knuckles darkening the banjo face? 
Tell me how to erase the ancient, violent beauty 
in the devil of not loving what we love.

From Murder Ballad by Jane Springer. Copyright © 2012 by Jane Springer. Reprinted with permission of Alice James Books. All rights reserved.