Twang Chic: Sam Buckhannon Explores the Latest Fashion

By R. T. Smith b. 1947
If it’s true that Johnny Weismuller stole his Tarzan yell
from the Alpine yodel, did Hank Williams in the back seat
of his Cadillac dream the ululation of Bedouin women

welcoming the horsemen back from war? When I was a boy
only a fool would fake a country sound, and my father
made his voice over to ring as simple as Jack Parr’s

Midwest porkless, yamless, no-cornbread-or-cracklin’ patter.
He didn’t want to be from Butts County, Georgia, and hated
farm chores and coveralls. Football got him out. The FBI

gave him a way to travel under cover, but I have heard him,
years later, after choir practice and the church social,
sit back with a Pall Mall and follow Eight-Finger Fleming’s

banjo frail. He’d hold that smoke deep, his ash glowing till
his throat was bathed in tar, and then he’d cut loose and scroll
it out, a yodel to make Roy Rogers blush. It was no hymn,

I’ll tell you. We had a brick split-level in the suburbs,
and the radio station of choice adored Perry Como’s croon.
My mother adopted words like boocoo and oodles to mask

her peach-orchard drawl. An uncle might tell a farmer’s
daughter joke, the rake fleeing the cocked shotgun
stopping on a hill to yodel, “Andyouroldladytoo,”

but nobody could say ain’t or you’uns or I’ll get to it
directly without a sharp correction. Country music
was not Frank Proffitt or Dock Boggs, but rubes

like Porter and Loretta Lynn, backwoods fabrication
of waist jackets and swirl skirts, long nights on a bus
with Grapette and gin. “Hillbillies,” the neighbors laughed,

and mother hated her mill-town roots so much she whispered
around a Tom Collins, “I’m half Jewish.” But if she sipped
often enough, something would catch her funny bone

and you’d hear the accent clear. Everybody wanted
to ditch their chifforobes and pie safes, get matching sets
from Ethan Allen, eat ravioli and pave the drive. Denial,

experts would say, but the cracker backlash is now
upon us, every professor and Appalachian scholar
desperate to sound authentic, to drop the terminal

r and double the syllables, to say bodacious or I favor
apple fruit or Would you kindly wallop my dodger?
We want it nasal as the shiver of a juice harp’s

tin tongue. We crave it riddled with mongrel grammar,
the sinus cavities set all a-tremble. We want to taste it
with sorghum syrup, to catch that yokel power,

desperation, the provenance of a Depression fiddle.
If a Swiss watch pops its mainspring, what echoes
is Hank’s bourboned backstage nasal quaver

clearing a path for “Long Gone Lonesome Blues.”
Call it hick bliss tinged with mimosa scent
and pig lots, Tuberose, greens. Say it’s bumpkin

vogue or red clay homegrown slang: it holds my
Adam’s apple in gawky thrall, and I still claim it,
the whole history of shaped pain shaved down

by local oafs and red-faced rustics—in short, us—
shackled in our Caliban stage to yawp and Celtic keen,
ravenous fashion’s dernier cri, country slur,

twang chic sweeter than honey or money or—
running through the red clay gully—the forlorn
moan of the midnight Macon train.

R. T. Smith, “Twang Chic: Sam Buckhannon Explores the Latest Fashion” from The Hollow Log Lounge. Copyright © 2003 by R. T. Smith. Used with the permission of the poet and the University of Illinois Press.

Source: The Hollow Log Lounge (2003)

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Poet R. T. Smith b. 1947

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

Subjects Class, Social Commentaries

Poetic Terms Dramatic Monologue

 R. T. Smith


Poet R.T. (Rod) Smith was born in Washington, DC, and grew up in Georgia and North Carolina. He earned a BA in philosophy from the University of North Carolina-Charlotte and an MA in English from Appalachian State University. His collections of poetry include From the High Dive (1983), The Cardinal Heart (1991), Hunter-Gatherer (1996), Trespasser: Poems (1996), Split the Lark: Selected Poems (1999), Messenger (2001), Brightwood . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Class, Social Commentaries

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

Poetic Terms Dramatic Monologue

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