The Ghost of Hank Williams Returns to Cain’s Ballroom

by Markham Johnson



The last time, he was sitting on a stump
in a cone of yellow light and cigarette smoke,
and the bats cleaning the air of midges and mayflies
passed right through. Maybe Hank believed
no one remembered October of ‘52,
when he collapsed before the second show,
and how we stood in silence until we heard
his soft snores, then slowly filed out, looking back.
I remember someone was singing, softly,
“I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.”
The dead know they are apart, they know
they can only listen in, maybe catch a couple verses
of their lives leaking out of some honky-tonk.
Maybe that’s why he keeps coming back
tucked into shadows. Even the dead can’t sleep
in the middle of July, and Tulsa’s as good
a place to revisit as any. And tonight
I can feel something burning straight through
the hard-baked dirt outside Cain’s,
though no one else seems to notice,
and we can just see the stage from the side door,
where the band’s playing “Hey, Good Lookin’ ”
badly. But that’s okay, because no one else could ever
sing it right, again, and besides Hank’s back,
and if I am very still so he does not notice, maybe,
he’ll stick around for the whole damn song.

Originally published in This Land, Vol. 4 Issue 21. Nov. 1, 2013.