The banjo player met the devil
and asked the devil if he wanted
to make a deal, but he talked so slow
the devil got bored and went on home.
The banjo player went to the mountain
to find the Maharishi but he got lost
on the way, had to pick his way down,
broken, fistful of nothing but fog.
The banjo player went to Hollywood
to see what riches were all about.
His fingers too slow to catch
anything but what he already held.
The banjo player was a nice man.
Nobody looked dumber in a hat,
nobody gladder to see the fifties gone,
no more need for hat-sized grins.
Lots of players with faster fingers
than the banjo player, the measure
of a player timing and not the speed,
left holding, right pouring. We all drink.
The banjo player is dead. His fingers lie
moldering in the coffin in a long pull-off.
That note rides the silence until the next
one is plucked. The banjo player never misses.
Chris Haven’s poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Whiskey Island, the museum of americana, Poet Lore, and Poet’s Market 2014. He teaches creative writing at Grand Valley State University in Michigan, and has recently finished a novel. “The Banjo Player is Dead” was written as an elegy for Earl Scruggs.