Redstreaks, Paul Binding
Shoestring Press, 2020 £6.00
Using the music
Music anchors poems. ‘Deep in the Heart of Texas’, is the first of Binding’s sequence of first-person narratives, loosely connected through place, people, and the Herefordshire cider orchards. The tune opens the poem, giving a vague ‘period’ feel —
‘Deep in the Heart of Texas’ — that’s what the
band — ‘group’ ’d be anachronistic — was playing
in our refurbished Village Hall as, fed up to the
back teeth, I pushed open side-door and stepped
out of sweat and din into a New Year’s Eve
Not a tune you’d hear these days, ‘Deep in the Heart of ...’, so perhaps 1970s? Outside, the narrator encounters Garth, starts a semi-drunken argument about a girl (Ryllie) and the music leaks out as the door opens —
‘The stars at night, / are big and bright’ (clap-clap-clap-clap)
‘Deep in the Heart of Texas.’ And Ryllie was dancing,
silver shoes, flame-red dress
Emphasis and clapping bring it close. You don’t just hear it; those insistent hands make you feel the beat. Three lines on, it re-appears —
‘Reminds me of the one I love’ (clap-clap-clap-clap)
‘Deep in the Heart of Texas.’
Ah, love. Personal history slips in; Ryllie is Garth’s ‘special’ sister. The beat hammers ‘love’, underlies the narrator’s lack of it, his argument with Garth, how a fight would have ended it but —
‘Deep in the Heart of Texas’ — yes, the band was still
pounding that out, dancers giving their idiot claps
It haunts him, the lyrics repeated as he runs away, through lines of cider apples; the rhythm (clap-clap-clap-clap) repeated too, insinuating itself into the expanding narrative. It emerges six times within the poem, woven into it, unforgettable.
A final section updates the story, the music still playing in the mind, but differently —
Likely no revels in our Village Hall this coming
New Year, our whole land stilled and unsociable
with virus, while that great heart of Texas
beats, despondent, its death toll rising hugely,
the old Rio Grande banked by heartbreak.
Would this poem stick in my mind without those ‘idiot claps’? Would it have as much emotional heft?
Popular music, background music; sometimes we can’t shake it off. It works well in this poem.
D. A. Prince