THE MOONLIGHT HITCHHIKER / AFTER THE STREETLIGHT CAME ON

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THE MOONLIGHT HITCHHIKER

I came to light at Rome, Georgia August 10, 1963 in a mint Cadillac
         my mama’d sprung,
 hot from the car lot, ’cause she said she knowed I’d grow up with
         nothing
 but breakneck fists and a roofless point of view to my name.
 Shit yes, beside her friend Maxine, she ripped hell-bent past Del
         Martin’s crew
 of failed salesmen, out from that sinking dealership, and down
 backroads by the dozen,
 halfway through cricket-crazy Dixie––

 till she spun into a ditch waving milkweed, and gave birth
 pure and simple among the furry seeds.
 Steaming like a catfish in the moonlight, I flopped around that flashy
         plastic seat
 and bawled for all the world, she said, like some god with a heart. 

 Same year Del was shot folding his socks at a filthy laundromat in 
          Santa Fe, 
 I got elected to dish out chicken and deep-fried clam sandwiches 
 over the counter––with shakers ranged like watchtowers–– 
 before many a pipsqueak, white-haired genius into leather and contempt 
 for everybody outside his crowd of ghosts. 
 Oh, the Haight was black-and-blue heaven to any earthbound fool so hot 
 under his haircut, doped-up and desolate, that no way could he guess 
 his spark was going in a flash 
 to a lump like sooty slag–– 
 what future we had all those days leapt right up our noses! 

 So help me weeping J.C., next thing I knew I was reborn about 
 two thousand years more dead than alive 
 when the world jerked to a stop ’round the middle of the night 
          and nowhere 
 and said to get me and my best threads off the damn bus. 

 Somehow the wind, rustling widely at random through wheat fields, 
          come across 
 as a heaved breath, half from relief and half sharp regret for not a few 
 whack-witted gestures which––via decades and detours––had thrashed 
          my way to the turf 
 by this godforsaken crossroads motel. 
 With a headache in every direction and the high-flown moon that takes a 
          dim view of me 
 through mist adrift over from the bottom, 
 I stumbled to an off-stride halt. 

 But that’s how it goes––a whole life lost among clouds––then, oh Mama, 
          brought down 
 to this hard place, eating dirt right under my nosedive! 
 So after you made the bend, Mister, I flagged your old Caddy for just 
 one more ride like I still had somewheres on earth to go. 

 for Larry Moffi 

 c2016 by Jeff Grinnell
 originally published in a slightly different form by The Evansville 
 Review

 




 

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AFTER THE STREETLIGHT CAME ON

“Mother, where did you go?” a boy complains.
“Your face . . . it fell when you rushed out my door.”
Motes of shadow cascade interior walls,
sweeping over his bed to the floor.

How could she leave? (Just then his ear had homed in
on steps diminishing down the hall.)
He braces to roll his bath-robed weight her way
but mounting shadows hold him still.

“So cool off my brow . . . with hands numbed by wind . . .
and tell what snow-forts near the woods,
got buried!” Bright flakes go whirling outside his sill
where backlit aloe and snake-plants loom.

“Mother, where are you? . . .” Behind glazed eyes, he crawls
through a blanket that thickens mote by mote.
And she turns to him, far-off, with wavering face
before the veils of snowfall close.

c2016 by Jeff Grinnell