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Old-Time Music

"I have kept 4/4 time to the river’s current."

Published onJul 29, 2020
Old-Time Music

Recording of “Old-Time Music” / by Harold Whit Williams


Once again the wide river recalled. A story, a song
An artery of memory.
Coffee-colored from summer floods.
Meandering west, as I did long ago.

I hear waves lapping from a barge passing.
I hear that sucking sound
In the shallows, in the shoals.
I hear Granddaddy plucking an old Martin

On Birmingham radio, his high tenor warbling
Inside the wax of a warped 78.
I have never heard this, yet I can hear it.
I have absorbed it

Like the grit and sediment of tap water.
I have inhaled it
Like some Main Street fellow's cheroot smoke.
I strum those three chords

The river taught me. Over and over and over.
I have lived the river beyond its banks.
I have kept 4/4 time to the river’s current.
I sing myself to the edge of the sea.


Harold Whit Williams is guitarist for the critically acclaimed rock band Cotton Mather, and he releases lo-fi home recordings as Daily Worker. He is a 2018 Pushcart Prize Nominee, and also recipient of the 2014 Mississippi Review Poetry Prize. His collection Backmasking was winner of the 2013 Robert Phillips Poetry Chapbook Prize from Texas Review Press, and his latest, My Heavens, is available from FutureCycle Press. He lives in Austin, Texas.

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