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North Georgia, Last Call.

North Georgia, Last Call

for Charlie Angell

   Dickey country--Gilmer County, Cherrylog,
   Ellijay--the landscape fulfilling prophesies
   of boat docks and vacation homes, Deliverance.
   And I think of the man himself beside me
   in this truck, startling me with voices
   from the novel, his urgent tones rising
   above the crunch of tires on the gravel road,
   then falling as he relaxed, smiled, and said,
   "I love writin' dialogue like that."
   I passed him my handkerchief when his nose
   bled, saturating the whole cloth. So much
   brilliant red it looked like a miniature Mark Rothko.
   He feigned disappointment later when I said
   I had washed it.

      I tell you this on the phone,
   making conversation after you confirm that cancer
   is devouring your brain. I mention our canoe
   trip on the Winnetuxet, when the marsh
   swallowed the river and we had to drop
   a leaf on the surface to tell which way
   the current flowed, and our launching
   a rubber boat just downstream from Holston Dam
   when the water was so cold the air chambers
   shrank and we almost went under. "Good times"
   you tell me. And I wish it were you beside me now,
   telling me the story of your bedridden grandmother,
   asking her nurse, "Are the Angells here yet? "
   the caretaker, thinking her patient felt her end
   near, quick to assure her she was not imperiled.
   I could not offer you that solace, but dream instead
   "Hell, you got to steal to break even."

   The preacher's book: pronounced bauble
   by the one man and babble by the other.
   The developer implies the design was less intelligent
   than inebriate:

   "You know the plural of Genesis? Genesees."

   In the maze of our days,
   it's all confused:
   the mountains have the values
   and the religious have the views.

   We say night falls, day breaks.
   Beginnings that begin
   with a mild twinge of

   This was after the towers fell.
   This was after the news broke--
   when too many wheelmen
   took the wheel
   and none too few
   spokes persons

   "The number seven, please." Sheila (she in
   the embroidered-Sheila shirt) marks me with a nod.

   I am marked.

   Us men (menus, please) array these
   tongue-tied infidelities:

   a joint being both the thing to smoke
   and maybe the place to smoke it;

   a diner both the venue on the corner
   and the looker on the menu.
   My point?

   Thou shalt not have one. Have one.
   Wanna split this joint?

   The stranger plays his role in any joke.
   Get the pie in the face when jester jukes.
   If there's hog to be had, be the butt.
   If you're the pig, take the poke.

   Don't mind me. Just hearing it out,
   just taking it in, a token-rate note-taker
   who knows what that and a nickel will get me,
   bless my heart, I'll be moving on.

   Oh, the trespasses trespassers get away with...

   the little gifts without history, no-tomorrow-hollow,
   another smile, another pour. Do I really want more,
   want chapter and verse of your troubles?

   The stranger already knows the score:
   the Word went Chapter 11, verse nothing.

   The King in a shower of gold lame.
   The King in a studded-peacock jumpsuit.

   In stars (Las Vegas). In stripes (Jailhouse Rock).
   In Stars and Stripes--the day John Lennon
   said he died. There are patterns here:
   God, country, a craving for ever more lives.

   Elvis shedding his many, sweaty scarves.
   Elvis in Blue Hawaii on the beach,

   Elvis as Ito's reaching for another fish
   and sniffing "Counting is not cool."

   Elvis pre-'Tm Counting on You."
   Elvis mid-"Don't Be Cruel."

   Everyone's got answers: Cold and flu.
   It's the questions we'd better be riddled with:
   What is and isn't on the menu?

   I continue to argue mutely with America.
   America savors the Golden Delicious.
   My fantasies are Mandarin.
   America adores its Granny Smith.
   I contemplate my Navel.
   We could go on like this. We do--
   each at our separate menu:
   America growing Rome, growing Empire
   as flood takes away my Clementine, my Blood.

   We are talking, at least. We are talking
   apples and oranges. America knows
   how to catch in my throat, I hear her above
   the humming: carpetbagger to carpet bomber
   we are over our target with apples and oranges.

   She clears her Adam's.
   I drop my Agent.

   Number seven arrives, the kingdom come
   of comfort food. Sheila
   reminds the guys staring is rude.

   "Sheila, do you have frogs legs?"

   "That again?"

   "Humor me."


   "Then hop over here and warm up my coffee."

   Wheeze-laughter like a diesel that won't turn over.
   I keep to my mug. It is what it is. Coffee
   as a kind of mercy.

   In China they call Chinese food "food"
   and a regular joe is a regular joe
   and so there are no Americanos here.

   The adultery of the eye is the lustful look.
   The adultery of the servant is the server.
   The adultery of thirst is the sip.
   The adultery of the lip is the service.
   The adultery of the edge is edginess.
   The adultery of the conscience is silence.

   The adultery of the day is cheeseburger soup.
   Yesterday's adultery was meatloaf.
   The adultery of the slut is what she wasn't wearing.
   The adultery of hospitality is spit-in tea.
   The adultery of one is the true lady of another.
   An adultery of one is enough for me.

   A country that tells its story in counters.
   Bead, bean, corn, tobacco bud, fur.
   Counters and encounters.
   Toll, scalp, slave, ballot, bottles on the wall.
   Counters and recounters, counterfeiters.

   Lunch counters, like this one.
   Counter agents. Body counters.
   Ripple counters, decade counters,
   synchronous, ring.

   Even this velvet Elvis on the wall
   seems to scream there's accounting
   for almost everything.

   That I'd play a stranger anyway,
   for nothing, to myself.
   that's the line I'll take today
   from everybody else.

   In manners, the traitors are easily picked:
   spies given up by the way they hold their knives.
   Even their eggs are Benedict.

   The purveyors of malaise you barely notice,
   a sauce like mayonnaise, hollandaise,
   malaise so slow in its spread,

   a shelf-life of years,
   malaise that just sits there,
   glopped on top of everything,

   dished out in a thousand soft stabs,
   a goo that helps you swallow it all
   and plaquens you up from inside.

   Crosswords one can take or leave.
   In a word, it's a jumble out there.

   (Permutation is importunate,
   and adultery is real duty.)

   This statement of the counter counterinsurgency
   costs less than coffee, and was brought to you by yours

   falsely. "Suspicious Minds" is his ringtone.
   None-of-Your-Business is his career.

   O Lafayette, Arkansas--we are hungry.
   O Lafayette, Indiana--we are here.

   We half-choose our fates, our situations.
   The other half's chosen for us, like Lincoln chose his booth.

   And that's half the trouble with being a chosen people.
   The other half's whole-truth.

   Sheila stubs out her smokebreak,
   some refuge in the funnies.
   Everyone's "honey" (she milks the honey).
   As she bends to pry a french fry
   from the tile, her slip shows.

   Nice slip, I think.
   Nice slop.

   Nice slap
   that cat deserves, perhaps, as he tries to plead
   he said she "got nice tips."

   Can't put it past her. The pastor rolls his eyes,
   asks cat, "What if that were your little girl?"

   "She is," he replies, wheezing a bellyful,
   all for the guys. "My land,"
   she snaps like a wet-down washcloth.
   "My land, you got a mouth."

   Land is Lord, it registers,
   but you didn't hear it from her.

   But you did. Even Babel is Chapter 11.
   After that, it's "leave your father's land."
   After that, it's "head for the hills."

   O my Land, you know my blues.

   I'm clearing out my gears and ears
   (all--ruptions and--rosions sordid to the cor-)
   and blowing this place. The safe's

   blown here: thieves' work is thievery,
   and poets' poetry. The work of adults?
   "Check, please."

   O my Land, you got two sides of your mouth
   and not one fit for kissing.
   O my Land, have coffee on me.
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Article Details
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Author:Johnson, Don
Publication:James Dickey Review
Article Type:Poem
Date:Mar 22, 2014
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