poems

BEST WESTERN

Night changes nothing. Interstate

keeps up its ruthless roar:

the economy’s ignitions, lusting,

every driver staring lethally ahead.

I check into the motel, mid-Ohio,

and try the Applebee’s across the way.

The place is packing it in,

Thursday’s blameless hubbub.

I ask the waitress to switch

to baseball on one of the screens –

she weighs my request, warily obliges.

I respect her power. Don’t cross me,

it says. This is our place and time.

The Thursday special is extra wings.

I sit and savor, watch three innings,

tip 30 percent, wander back to room 211.

The $79 a night includes a hot tub

on a timer I didn’t really ask for,

a deal brokered decades ago

on cheap energy and permanent war.

Nachos, flat screen, family church,

open carry, conflagrant rising temps:

The deal prevails another night.

© copyright 2018 Ray Waddle

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THE HALF OF IT

Autumn: the slow crush and scrape between solstices,

the bruised reds and yellows, the clock’s foliage.

 

I get it: fall’s rusty shedding brings an end

to the year’s helpless processionals, the end-time scenarios,

 

my unexplained fevers. Year after year,

I didn’t know the half of it.

 

I knew roughly one half, the fretting righteous part.

Aging (I begin to see) makes this plain,

 

asking me to submit to the high noon

of facts. They’re arriving in stone silence.

 

I’m done with false dawns. Their old tricks can’t

reach me now. Something new is coming around:

 

Fall: a sheer shearing in Halloween gusts.

Truth is bracing. I brace for it.

© copyright 2018 Ray Waddle

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A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS, VINCE GUARALDI TRIO

(FANTASY RECORDS, 1965)

Getting no credit all year long (none), piano trio jazz

gets its annual December renewal, always just in time,

to stand in as boomer soundtrack to solidarity and snowfall,

50 years on, and lately a melancholy no one noticed before.

 

Guaraldi’s swing convenes a seminar on what once was:

the carols we sang at public school, the candlelight litany

at church (that flirt with open flame and code violation)

while tinseled tree waited stoically at home. Imagination

was aflame: for weeks, the solstice firmament was a staging area,

a gospel Rand McNally in the angelic wilderness.

At morning recess, we regarded the holiday sky as

a high protective archway, and at night, out my window,

the street lights did duty as Bethlehem stars.

 

No one knew, working their Super 8s, that they were

cataloguing a grainy summit, sturdy Protestantism’s

final postwar moment, scored for Peanuts chorus and trio.

The stained glass taught cold-war rectitude, and

the pulpit readings from Genesis and Jesus, with

the long-hooded sedans parked out front, hardened

into incarnation. Week after week we were given words

about God, humanely rendered, but other words got left out,

words about poverty and body count and boredom.

Then out of nowhere came the shadow, the downturn.

Others have described it: churches emptying, everywhere

and at once. And something else: the eclipse of jazz.

 

Guaraldi’s ghost trio plays a new role now: messenger:

memory is a glory, also a snare. Everything piles up.

Remember what’s needed, then hope the undertow

doesn’t take us. Tonight, something surprising

comes through, an after-hours feel, the blues of it,

the blues that break beneath the jazz chords and behind

the decades. It calls the exhausted, calls them blessed.

The magi math and guesswork keep making their way

through archway of sky. Barn stench, nativity glow,

snowfall, divine motion: the music plays on.

© copyright 2018 Ray Waddle

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AT THE LORRAINE

A motor hotel from the vintage decades,

the family vacation kind when gas was 34 cents –

the long glass windows, unfussy modernism,

ice machine at the stairwell, so trusting.

Stricken now in mid-thought, but standing its ground.

 

The same air that carried his speeches

can also carry a crack of thunder

and, closely behind that, a bullet.

It’s the same air, slack and vivid,

then and now.

 

“Ben, make sure you play ‘Precious Lord, Take My Hand’

in the meeting tonight. Play it pretty.”

His last words, remembered with telescopic precision.

“Precious Lord,” a sweet rebuke to forces gathering

across the street. Forces still steamrolling.

 

Shame had been a useful currency. Then fear replaced it:

the fear of him, across the many precincts and pews.

And vowing never to be caught in a position of weakness again,

fear stood up and took aim out the window. That was then.

Today the motel stands its ground, waiting us out.

© copyright 2018 Ray Waddle

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