After a two-pitcher Sangria dinner
after three days tarring the biggest roof
in Travelers Rest, he’s waiting for Darlene
who’s been under that roof
for twenty minutes, getting the guilt-free frozen
dessert they’ll eat at her place. He’s hoping
she’ll surprise him
but not too much. Somebody’s just called
Blasts From The Past and demanded
Be My Baby, twice.
Sure, Murray the deejay whispers
where do you want us to meet?
Just the song, asshole
just like a homecoming queen.
And I thought
was about to change
words that the Ronettes’ backbeat
half-buries so you couldn’t tell
if Murray was kidding
or if he really was remembering all those years
since the Beatles killed crewcuts and beehives
before America could believe it.
If a preacher had pointed to the Bi-Lo
that afternoon, or even tonight, he might believe
in Hell—bars of fluorescent light
showing so clearly everybody
is hopeless and ugly and sorry and arranged
so perfectly in rows
sort of like being in study hall forever
without air conditioning.
He powers down the front windows and hears
the same music outside, louder.
He’s lined up between two husbands
all of them in old Toyotas
with saxophones and humidity
hanging in the air like black velvet.
The NASCAR cap on his left tells him
when they were kids only faggots
drove Japanese cars.
The guy on his right cackles
I’ll race you
to the tomatoes, flicking his high-beams in rhythm
to a world of glass.
So he turns the key, unlocking
what’s left of his first V-8
while a bag boy takes off his apron
waving the green flag
to the invisible Shangri-Las
I felt so helpless
What could I do
Remembering all the things
We’d been through
He’d paid his insurance
He’d say his clutch slipped
His roof wouldn’t fall in
Gilbert Allen‘s most recent books are Catma (a collection of poems from Measure Press) and The Final Days of Great American Shopping (a collection of linked stories from USC Press). A longtime resident of upstate South Carolina, he received the Robert Penn Warren Prize in Poetry from The Southern Review in 2007, and he was elected to the South Carolina Academy of Authors in 2014.
(Photo credit: Flickr.)