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Deathly by Rodney Jones


by Rodney Jones

published in his book, Imaginary Logic (2011, Houghton Miffllin)

I am alone, driving through St. Louis,

listening to a ballad by Aimee Mann.

There is a fine romance to listening to loud rock 'n' roll

as you drive a late-model car through a big city late at night:

the ordinary nostalgia, with its useless longing,

and then the clearer nostalgia for what never happened:

Februaries in Rio, blind tropical sweethearts,

the last few treaties of the Gore administration.

It is acceptable for once to be a fool.

It is totally awesome to have come

from Rolla and to be going to Carbondale.

A cool rain has fallen for most of the day

and now the road glitters with that light

that indicates spring and Eros and things going by:

the Hill, Busch Stadium, then Saarinen's arch;

certain parties in 1973, embraces by banisters, day trips;

many times shining. "It's too late," the music says

without coming right out and saying it. "It is hopeless

and it will never again be so beautiful." A girl

once played this very song for me and told me

it made her think of me, a thing that nearly broke my heart,

though, in fact, it was herself she meant.

The singer alone is the subject of the song.

The rest is only love, for which I remain an idiot.

I think of Neruda's mongoose nearly every day.

Of old girlfriends weeping at my funeral.

Of what Keats wrote to Fanny Brawne,

and how much it pleased me, on May 17, to write in a journal:

"Setting words on top of music

is like placing a fat man on a small pony."

But now as I drive, and I am not supposed to be anywhere,

the words raise that girl, and then myself,

exalted, her attention gilding my ego like rain,

until I begin thinking of other women

together in a car late at night, and of my grandmother,

and her friends, humming as they quilted

scraps of guano sacks and overalls,

how they had already drifted away from me

when I came out of the Holland Tunnel in 1971.

So as I cross the Mississippi, I play it again,

three times, and then again, a lucky man,

alive in the dark country, singing along,

driving with my lights out for the fun of it.

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