Mennonite Poetry Home | Larry Nightingale



Slow Ernie's under it

On the rolly—Esso trolley, the grease monkey gurney,
flat on his back, face up, low down and parallel
to ground, he's feeling under it and everything,
tuning in to everywhere (afterlife, with garage car radio on)
a little claustrophobic, cold crankcase oozing
grief from the world's split side,

'come to' in the old town filling station great auto body sheds
which (if the papers of the day and white blossoming ash
are to be believed) no longer quite exists
magnificently flamed out eons back,
nonetheless here lies, magnificently low, slow Ernie,

since a day and hour some hit and run
flattened him (some stupid motions ago)
in a coast city a hundred miles and a hundred years away
gone cosmic, beyond carbon dating
knocked silly, into this vast space built up
round his brain's old grey-planked vaults
(he can hear the heavy hammers clinking
but can't quite make out the hammerers' thinking)

old cathedral garage ghosts where
the fragmented static electric dust motes hang
and God's grease-black pocket rags wipe back and forth
and back and forth across eternity's
shatter-webbed pale tinted windshield,

must be a thousand of them, wrecks, vehicles waiting,
the entire town and lifetime memories in line, bumper
to bumper, dinging that bell, bells rung and ringing
where everything and everybody's been someway hit and run,
fears and fragments suspended with every first and last
kind word old Herb and Dave (the motor boys)
and any of their winged sing-song crew ever uttered

as their wives' voices too and his dear angel mother's
flitting in blind like soot-blackened barn swallows
from out the old Esso office black rotary
wall phone, and through the door ajar
(where wee tyke Ernie once and now forever more
shyly sucks down sweets
like hallucinogenic time and space and visions

that loaded east view sunlit sill's worth
of sticky warm chocolate melting coconut finger macaroons
as a crabby kid on his daddy's knee in the cobalt
primer pinto pickup riding
home to supper and a tummy sour

which is as cute as things will ever get here
where now as scratched and dented 60-year-old poet guy
he has not yet ratcheted one word or phrase into its meaning,
never mind crowbarred a manifold prose piece
into jagged being, snug into place, not at all,
not one time, in these Godforsaken past few minutes,

perhaps has yet to discover he is
(for however long forever and/or 'the past few minutes' is)
some sort of temporarily blinded soul
with welder visor down
and not a smith of any kind at all,
least of all of words, but a little puzzled monkey
more suited to random fidget, idle poking,

repeated wrenching, clenching, choking
clamped on with baby teeth on all those fossil-hard dugs
and bits, dragging round love's blocked large intestine
and wee retracted goose-bump testicles and tits
up there in that mechanical underbelly
of frightening unforgiving space and time

than too obvious frolics of pneumatic imagination-bliss
inside some great rattling work, some revving body...
slow Ernie's under the car, where 'gravity is heavy freight'
he sighs, 'and such a heavy weight on me, I know...'
just as my elders told me straight, wasn't it just yesterday

five thousand, six million, seventy trillion years ago
when I was lying just east of Eden like I'd been
always lying there, like I've been lying here, boy,
you're gonna' carry that weight,
carry that weight for a long time... and repeat, repeat
with the withering voice of Genesis, Leviticus, and Judges,
if you don't get up, get up, get up (rise up!)
from under it, dear, slow Ernie.

© Larry Nightingale




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