Last week, at the self-service gas station,
A real orange-haired kid’s birthday party clown
Emerged from the car right in front of me
And set the hose, and lit a cigarette,
And stood there taking deep drags as it pumped.
Trailing smoke and staring into space,
His painted face looked drawn and beaten down.
There’s only so much that a clown can give.
I empathize with all who are employed
And tried to picture what might have gone wrong:
Kids getting scared and crying the whole time
Or kicking him or stomping on his shoes
Or potty accidents or vomiting
Or a drunk ex-husband showing up
Or any kind of problem getting paid…
At length the pump clunked off. He sorted out
The hose and cap, and took a final drag
On his half-finished smoke, and snuffed it out,
And climbed aboard his rig and drove away,
Westward, toward the setting sun. Godspeed.
It’s in Nebraska, off the interstate,
Up two-lane roads, past irrigation rigs
And railroad and grain elevator towns,
To the remote and alien salt hills
Where somebody has spent the cash to build
A replica of Stonehenge with the stones
Replaced by junkyard cars all painted gray,
Some sunk upright, some welded on the top,
All on a weedy patch of dead flat land
With year-round awful weather. It attracts
Art lovers and eccentric druid types,
Especially near the winter solstice, though
It’s much too cold to chant out there at dawn.
You’d think locals would dislike the place
For interfering with their wheat farming,
But they’ve set up a small gift shop out front
To sell T-shirts and beer mugs with a smile.
A dollar bill can serve as common ground,
And in this case the juxtaposed vignettes
Are maybe more intriguing than the art.
It’s in a dismal hick town called Galesburg,
Noted for patched roofs and lack of paint,
Haphazardly laid out and large enough
For points of interest to be hard to find.
Traveling its streets past railroad tracks,
Some empty storefronts and a post office
And a scowling grey-haired biker bar,
I found the trail and ended up before
A pair of wood frame buildings with a plaque.
The neighbor lady gave me the fish eye,
And it was clear that no one ever came.
Between the buildings was a good-sized rock,
Remembrance rock, with ashes underneath,
And looking at it I thought should be
Much larger, maybe ten or twelve feet tall,
And carved and painted like a human heart.