Balladeer Commandeers All the Ears

Loose Leaves, first published Tuesday 13 April 1999 in The Morning News of Northwest Arkansas

By Ben Pollock

Copyright 1999 Donrey Media Group

DATELINE MIRTHOLOGY — Gus Donenough stood up to silence the Donenough Foundation board so that he could introduce the poet. Nearly everything was ready for the upcoming Live-Stock Town Fair. Plenty of artisans had signed up for booths. The musical acts had signed contracts. The community fair logo was redesigned.

“You directors thought we should have a theme song this year,” Gus said. “Longhand here is the right man for the job. He knows us and the area, and his grasp of prosody is loose as is his grasp of reality. So the price is right.”

Longhand was seated next to Gus. He wore a tattered photographer’s vest over a T-shirt and khaki cargo pants with buttons, not Velcro. Pockets top and bottom were bulging with who-knew-what. His hat was floppy, broad-brimmed and black, likely from a military surplus store. Below were faded red Converse canvas shoes.

“Don’t be off-put by Longhand’s long flowing blond hair, ladies and gentleman,” Gus said. “It’s a wig.”

Longhand loped to the lectern in the dark-paneled conference room of the Donenough Foundation. He smiled vaguely then began a sing-song chant.

* * *

When the year rolls over to spring
With pollen in the air,
Pack up kith, kin and lawn chairs, bound
For the Live-Stock Town Fair.

There’s sharp brown peaks topped with pine trees
Printed on souvenirs,
But our soft hills sport scraggly oaks:
This logo drawn after beers?

We are busy, our bodies stressed.
This passes for fun, it passes for art.
And we’ve got to find our car before dark.

Thousands already have come and gone
When we get to Live-Stock
We park in mud, we trek in mud;
We’re tough, each a weekend jock.

We spot candy apples, corn dogs,
Onion blossoms, funnel cakes.
Our noses pull to concessions:
Lord, the prices. What high stakes!

We are busy, our bodies stressed.
This passes for fun, it passes for art.
And we’ve got to find our car before dark.

Well fed, we head to the craft stands
Hot, sleepy and nearly broke.
But eager for culture, we ask,
“What’s fine, what’s really folk?”

There’s pottery, carvings and quilts
Fired, cut or loomed so dear.
After 23 booths we realize
It’s the same as last year.

We are busy, our bodies stressed.
This passes for fun, it passes for art.
And we’ve got to find our car before dark.

Bet we get the shows we pay for,
The price of admission.
This band never had a video
On cable television.

Surely children will be amused
By juggler, mime or clown.
Longhand plays to that captive queue
That waits as if knees bound.

We are busy, our bodies stressed.
This passes for fun, it passes for art.
And we’ve got to find our car before dark.

On this, our first spring day outing,
Skin turns beta carotene.
You’d think Live-Stock’d have a table
Selling lots of sunscreen.

Have we missed any artisan,
Bypassed a face-painter?
Quick, gather family and bags
Before we grow fainter.

We are busy, our bodies stressed.
This passes for fun, it passes for art.
And we’ve got to find our car before dark.

* * *

“Members of the board, may I have a motion?” asked Gus.

“Have we paid this guy yet? someone asked.

The directors moved to each put a dollar bill in Longhand’s hat.

The resulting radio and TV announcements drew a record 355,000 people to Live-Stock, according to Donenough Foundation estimates. Longhand was invited to appear on local-access cable television, a career highlight.

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