Voice

Brigitte Bardot is wearing that cat again draped around her neck

Her voice opens into the blue sky of a parachute the way one
hears a sharp bird call    Wake up   Wake up

Twin backgrounds    Car rumble without a muffler outside in
May Cass Street twilight   Canned laughter from the TV revs
up

What would it be like to drive Miss Brigitte to my High School
every morning?

To hear her chew gum over the smell of cinammon rolls and
black coffee

To hear the tires crunch up the gravel driveway and the brakes
squeak

To hear her perfume cloud the rear view mirror

To hear the day's English IV lesson plan comma by comma

To hear her voice erase my vision as I veer into the path of a

huge truck loaded with Wonder Bread and Hostess Twinkies

To hear her voice scream in the voice of a cat's warning   Watch
out    Watch out    Watch out     Keep your eyes open

Did she say Jerk or Jack?

We were silent in that old beat up Buick suddenly pitched to the
side of the road     Our hearts racing    Foreheads oily with sweat  
Itching palms    Ears on fire

The voice of the engine ticking is not the voice of the old windmill
on the far hill hushing to a quarter turn stop

Through ripped layers of cloud along the green mist hillside I watch
the constellation Virgo glow brighter as the street light clicked off

 

 

Question


The naughehyde police car back seat crackles in radio static

My face glows from red to green as the car slowly moves across toward the jail downtown

Just a few years ago this time of morning I'd be using Gas Station pliers to cut open another clot of the morning newspaper

Thwack   Thwack   Thwack   The smell of broken purple neon on a concrete sidewalk

The handcuffs jingle as I raise both arms to wipe away sweat from my eyes

Thumbs   Thumbs    Thumbs    Touching the tattoo of my black eye  A rosary of claw marks about my throat

This is the third car I've been in drunk headed east to the Police Station in the past three years     More money to the lawyer who will tell me about my Dad

A debate with a returning veteran on Viet Nam on a redwood patio reeking grape vodka  

I guess I lost that argument when I mentioned the nick name for his former girl friend

Why would I scream walking five miles home?    I was almost home    Scream obscenities at a passing police car

Two dead squirrels in a driveway     Another on the sidewalk there   A fourth draped over the guy wire to a telephone pole     Does it rain Death in certain places?

A glass pack Barracuda squeals to its red light stance exhaling Elvis Pressley through broken speakers     Everything seems red

The cops look at each other and both shake their heads    One says   ''Naww   We got this jerk here   That's enough right now''

The first light of dawn touches the highest Mutual of Omaha tower a soft fogged pink

 

 

Knife

July Saturday midnight     Maple Street     Far west in the city

Post office summer job Special Delivery Ford truck

A rain blast every other block    Glad I'm not drinking

Slap slap of windshield wipers   Spit of tire tread

Amber flashers click with the tune of  a .22 pistol trigger

Fog cocoons shinnying up telephone poles & stop signs

Even white light looks black on this asphalt highway

My skull a tourniquet orange knot of migraine

My mother told me again she is praying to Saint Jude for me

He's the patron saint of hopeless cases   A miracle

She likes her name Monica & thinks of that sex fiend Augustine

Did I just fall asleep at this corner here waiting for the light
to change?   Is that why the car in back of me is honking the
Notre Dame fight song?

Is this the corner where that Chris guy from school exposes
himself and pisses at taxi cabs?     I think it is

But that's a young woman in a blue raincoat hitch hiking
who I wave into the truck and take off slow as she tells me
where she is going   Very attractive    Blonde    Green eyes

''Aren't you''  I ask her quietly  '' afraid to be out here alone
at night by yourself?''

''Why should I be'' she says opening her backpack and pulling
out a ten-inch butcher knife which glows green from the over
head light ''when I have this?''

Large patches of silence fumble between us until just before
I stop where she points she says ''My brother had this job two
years ago    Did you know you could lose your job for picking
up passengers?  It's forbidden   Thanks''

 

 

XYZ


That Christmas we drove 2000 miles in eight days then I drove 1000 miles in one day alone back to Omaha   200 miles through an Iowa blizzard

That blue VW with seven dents held our Marlboros & Salems     An AM tuned to the Beatles Ralph Stanley & the Dixie Hummingbirds    We were on our way

We didn't have a single roadmap in the car    My skull was radioactive

It seemed a glass house when the gravel truck kept pitching stones at our windows

The sun continued to rise in the rose colored east & set in the black ocean of the west

A fifty foot finger in a stubble corn field pointed towards Independence Missouri   

Many times going south the highway would zoom straight north for miles

Especially in Arkansas midnight at Tontitown crossing the low bridge where the headlight beams flashed to escape the earth toward a sliver of orange moon before railroad track gravity jolted them back

After barbecue & collard greens & corn bread for breakfast a woman told us to ''go three miles down this road and turn left where the Dairy Queen used to be''

Once Gaetano Donizetti appeared through the fog above Oxford Mississippi and our souls seemed to slip out the cold air window cracks along with our clouds of cigarette smoke

We had no idea where we were going   Our bodies tattooed corkscrews

The vulture at noon when it fell from the sky into the field beside the Temple of the Saving Lamb Baptized near Tuscaloosa might have been the soul of Nathan B. Forrest

We should have run out of money   We should have had to sleep in that nicotine bug   We might have learned early what a soup kitchen was    What we needed to evade or escape

The blue moths and yellow butterflies on the hood & windshield seemed pale telegrams from another world
 
When you smiled opening your eyes in the dark and they filled with light  I was glad I had turned the radio way down low   The violin quiet as a breath


 

 
Free


Everything important happens in silence

Our conception  

Faith  

One's breath loitering in the lungs after the last

That pain thin as a knife in the heart

When you cupped your hands around the water from that fountain and its surface flooded with starlight you whispered without speaking

I don't ever want to die

You won't

I'm sure there was something on the edge of my vision at that moment but I didn't even turn to look


        John McKernan 2010


John McKernan is now a retired comma herder  He lives - mostly - in West Virginia where he edits ABZ Press. His most recent book is a selected poems, Resurrection of the Dus
t. He specialized in rehabilitation for depleted semicolons and the repair of  derelict exclamation points.