WBZ reached out with the beat from Boston
in ’64 and struck my libido like a tuning fork.
I hid the transistor radio under my pillow
and wondered what the lucky kids back east
had done to deserve the beat while nothing
moved in my part of America for days on end
except copies of the Bible and corn weevils.
We had no beat unless WBZ bounced off a
chance cloud, leaving me to imagine kids in Boston
necking to the music from subversive bands
while we in the heartland were trapped in
the amber of crooning Elvis. On those dreadful
nights when the reception failed, my fingers
frantically coaxed the radio dial. All I wanted
was to swing and thrust and howl to the songs
I knew were out there exploding the night like
a train wreck and the shackles on me rattled
as I danced to the static all by myself
there in the Ohio dark.
The wheelbarrow tire is still flat, a
long-standing excuse I lean upon, for
I was not born with dirt under my nails.
I am therefore not inclined to bury pinches
of carrot seeds just to spend hours on
my knees trying to distinguish between
weed and vegetable. Still, when fending off
the chaos of a morning, I envy those who find
peace in the garden. My father claimed
this blessing, planting and tending his crops,
with our reluctant help, after a long day
making steel. I know he was aware of the
farmer’s markets groaning under the
burden of fresh produce only a few miles
from Monica Avenue. I do not doubt his
passion for gardening was true, but I have
long suspected there was also a lesson
for us in our labors, passed down one
generation to the next in case the end of
the world should fall on our days and we
would starve if we didn’t know how to
hill potatoes in the blistering summer sun.
If this was the case, the lesson didn’t take
and I will surely starve.
Grandpa Lester was stoic as Mount Rushmore /
only after his death when I was ten did I learn
that as a teen he ran away from the family and
joined the circus / this would have been back
on the Ohio farm around 1916 / plows / outhouses /
handsewns / prayer meetings on Wednesday /
dumb nights and coal smoke / buggy wheel tracks
in frozen mud / I never asked him about his youth
for I assumed he had been born seventy years old
and all those signs of a lifetime’s labor back on the
farm / a hundred acres and a milking herd / had been
done by elves / and now I long to know how a
taciturn farmer transformed himself into a circus boy /
did he bathe elephants / hawk circus peanuts /
was his ponderous nose covered in face paint / did he
hang with the human cannonball and the trapeze lady /
so rude of him to take such stories to the grave / although
I share some of the fault / I’ve never been curious enough
about anyone but myself / and I’ve lacked the courage
to run away from any expectations / so as I age my face
too is showing less and less emotion / for fear, I suppose,
that people will understand just how Grandpa shames me now.
Tom Barlow is an Ohio author of poetry, short stories and novels. His work has appeared in journals including PlainSongs, Ekphrastic Review, Voicemail Poetry, Hobart, Tenemos, Redivider, Aji, The New York Quarterly, The Remington Review, Aurora Review, and many more. See more at tombarlowauthor.com.