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Whatever's Clever

What Will Become of All the Secret Pianos I Have Loved

from My Life's Work by Ben Seretan

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Spread out flat on my back in my underwear, my ass touching the sandy bottom, trying to keep as much of my body underwater as possible while still being able to make introductions and, in the back of mind, wondering if this part of the creek also got leeches. Exchanging names with folks and smiling, talking about how nice the water felt, how rickety the ladder was, the moon coming out beyond the fanned out branches of a tree, roots dipped in the water. I had just enough of a reason to be there among these charismatic strangers. I was welcomed (maybe - tolerated) but still very much on the outside. My friends I came with got distracted by their dog and I didn’t wait for them before stripping down and getting in the creek, fireflies morse code-ing overhead. So I talked to these folks also in their underwear (the owner of the farm was bare assed) but I didn’t endear myself to them, barely made it past the polite parts. I was in a totally new context, in fact it was an eerily accurate realization of my fantasies I had developed when thinking about my upcoming time in this part of the country - swimming in a creek, a barn dance, music played with banjos and pedal steel, dancing with my buddy who brought me in a goofy, twirling imitation of the hillbilly foxtrot, eating meat from a cow that was raised and slaughtered steps from the party. 5 working acres, down a dirt road past the speedway with little DIY modified trailers dotting the landscape, added rooms made of busted pallets and army surplus burlap. The party was taking place in their gigantic barn, open on both sides, poured concrete floor, with more farmers camped in tents in the lofts above. Tables full of potluck, tables full of warm beer, dogs running around, and string lights gnarled in clumps overhead. Maybe 50 people or so, everyone peeing freely without a second thought out back. We drove 50 minutes from where I was staying directly into my most indulgent hope for these three weeks in the South. I didn’t get around to trying their 100-yard slip ’n’ slide, though. Also, I didn’t realize what kind of party I was going to - I was maybe the only person wearing pants, and although I have never (not once ever!) had a problem going swimming in my underwear then going commando, I didn’t blend in with these farmers, these bike punks, these surprisingly big name musicians who hesitantly accepted my enthusiasm. But like I said I was still welcomed or at least not unwelcome and I danced with abandon as one of when the DJ dropped “My Neck, My Back (Lick It)” as soon as the bands finished playing, whiplash. Someone turned the lights out and the group - smelling of creek water, garlicky agrarian BO, and spilled tecate - made the transition almost gracefully, their overtanned, equine bodies (from tending to the tumeric and ginger) responsive to the overdriven bass coming from an ancient amplifier that, I could tell, played polka for the masses in another life. And me an outsider to all this, observing, deep in four beer fantasies about rolling around in the grass with someone, telling my friends to leave me there, I’ll get a hour plus ride back somehow in the morning. I wanted to sing for them. I wanted it all, I wanted to devour it, to contain it within me, to live up to the boldness my new friends seemed to believe was my nature, to be lithe and strong and interconnected and flirting openly with everyone and every object, drinking warm cans in the kiddie pool with my bare arm around a stranger. I was told this was a once-a-year party. And letting your hair down in the way I was hungry for takes a level of trust and love of your companions that the not-unwelcome outsider can never muster. So I’m left with this ringing echo of desire, a yearning hangover, an eager observer left to write something about it in the dashed hopes that the sweet feeling of it will stick around.

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from My Life's Work, released August 30, 2018

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Ben Seretan Troy, New York

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