ODE TO CONSTANCE JEAN

At a drive-in with dectective checking c

At a drive-in with dectective checking c

So here we are in Missoula again,

the last time was 53 years ago

when you were living

in that trailer court behind

the Mountain View Drive-In.

We could sit at the kitchen table

and watch a movie out the window

while we ate our Swanson TV dinners.

No sound of course, but it was

really something to see, that

pantomime on the big screen.

 

Later on, we’d drive downtown

to cruise the drag and gawk at the array

of flashing neon signs in the dark,

especially the “Holiday Village” tower—

like Times Square on the Vegas Strip.

 

You were so young, and I was a kid,

chubby and crew-cut as your hubby

who played accordion and guitar,

shot arrows at bales of hay.

He chauffeured us everywhere

in that 56 Ford—a cloud of blue

smoke followed us to buy bottles

of Coke and bags of potato chips.

 

You two were just married

and pregnant with Ricky.

Before my 8th birthday

I became Uncle Mark. By then

you’d moved back to Alberton

because that was the home

you never wanted to leave

and didn’t until now after 30

or so years of Parkinson’s Disease

has all but wasted you

and brought you back to me.

 

The drive-ins are gone, but

your TV set is always on. Too bad

Dr. Phil and Oprah have replaced

Gary Cooper and Doris Day,

you and me doing the dialogue

and dealing Crazy Eights—which seems

way better than these self-help clown’s

pandering their tragicomic routines.

 

Our giant tehno-steps have left

much of our humanity behind.

I guess that’s just part of the recipe.

Now it appears your fallen cake

has just about baked, and

they’re preheating the oven for me.

Selfishly I was glad to hear you were moving

closer to me—though I know

you’d rather die on Petty Creek.

 

In all our days these last 60 years,

we’ve never uttered those words:

I love you. I guess we can thank

our parents for that handicap

(if that’s what it is). The old man

distrusted that phrase more than

any other, and our mother was cut

from similarly tough threads.

 

On Fern’s death bed we joked

the chaplain about what we didn’t know

nor believe about this life or what’s after,

and he laughed at our candor or maybe

he too was a lamb astray (we agreed

that he was a damn good minister

to pagan grief). I recalled the story

Tommy Lee Jones’ character tells

at the end of No Country For Old Men

about a dream he had where

it’s getting dark and he and his dad

were riding through a blizzard

where they couldn’t see ten feet

in front of their horses. His dad told him

not to worry, that the horses knew

the way. He’d see him up the trail.

His father rode off and disappeared.

The boy was alone, yet he wasn’t afraid.

He knew his dad would have a fire

built by the time he got to camp

and be waiting to dish up the beans . . .

 

My voice cracked, picturing

my mother standing at the stove

frying bacon, no dentures, hair on end . . .

then I cried when I saw you crying,

and we laughed and cried

the way grown children laugh-cry

bucking up while their mother dies.

I loved you then more than I ever had,

and I have loved you every day

of my life, like those nights

we popped corn and danced

while Butchy “rolled out the barrel”

on his mother-of-pearl squeeze box

or that shark-toothed guitar

while we sang and circled and danced

and fell, rolled laughing on the braided rug.

You were so alive and so much fun

back then when we were young

and happy to be laughing . . . now

 

I know you’re wore out and our tour

is almost done, that this ode

is overly sentimental and sappy to some

(those smart-young cynics

and plenty of older ones)

but I didn’t write it for them. Odes

written for loved ones are the roots

of poetry best published on

refrigerators and bedroom mirrors.

 

The postmodern literary world doesn’t

abide clumsy love-letter poems, so

no one will ever read this

in Poetry magazine. That hardly

matters to you or me . . . so whoever

gets there first will remember

to stir the beans, maybe cut up

some hot dogs or bacon for the pot,

and keep an eye on that coffee can

before it rolls to a boil and puts

the fire out ’cause we’ll both be

more than ready to eat by that time . . .

and joke about our saddle sores.

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One Response to ODE TO CONSTANCE JEAN

  1. peter poetry says:

    beautiful, just beautiful!

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