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Poem of the Week: Tony Morris

Poem of the Week: Tony Morris

by Dawn Leas on March 11, 2014

There’ll Be Heartache

He pulled onto the shoulder,
air breaks huffing, stopped and rolled
the window down—outside the air was dry
but cold, early-autumn evening closing in,

and I was eighty miles outside El Paso
with a pack across my back
heading west, because a friend
had died and nothing seemed to fit,
the days and nights too long, or short,
or just too damned complete—

and as the trucker sniffed the wind
as if the smell were new to him,
and flicked a Camel to the ground
and waved me in, I thought I saw a flicker
of a smile beneath the shadow of his cap,

and so I climbed into the cab, slung
the pack into the sleeper in the back
then settled in while on the radio
a tune by Johnny Cash was blasting,
“just around the corner there’ll be heartache.”

And as he pulled the rig back on the highway
he turned to me and said, “Where you headed, son?”
just like that, as if it were a script,
but it wasn’t, and I knew he meant it
as he asked again, “Where’re you headed? You okay?”

and so I told him that my friend had been the smartest
gal I knew, and how there wasn’t anything
you could do to make her angry
or act rude, and how it didn’t seem so right
that someone good like her could die so young
when other’s meanness seemed to keep them going
right on through—

and then we drove along in silence
for another mile or two before Chuck Berry’s
famous tune chugged its steady rhythm on the radio:
Long distance information give me Memphis Tennessee
help me find the party that tried to get in touch with me,

and the trucker asked if I liked the song,
which I did, then he said, “It’s the ending
makes it great”—and sure enough,
it’s true: I catch the strange twist
of misdirection, the snappy, upbeat popping rhythm;

the speaker begging, pleading
for just a bit of mercy: Help me information
get in touch with my Marie, she’s the only one
who’d call me here from Memphis, Tennessee;

the seductive, needy intonation that points us, wrongly,
to lost sweethearts and lovers—only makes the truth
more real, and sad: that sweet Marie’s his little
girl from whom he’s been pulled apart,
because her Mom did not agree
And tore apart our happy home in Memphis, Tennessee—

and yet I couldn’t help but smile and tap
my toe to the upbeat rhythm of six-year-old Marie
with hurry home drops on her cheek
wavin’ him goodbye, just like the last time
that I’d seen my friend as I was backing down the drive
and headed South, and how that weekend

we had talked and written down the little
we knew then, and later, back at home, she’d sent
the poems for me to read and I had saved
them all till I got the call and had pulled
them all together, laid them side by side by side,

and knew I’d seen the better part of life
with her there on that night. Then the driver tapped
another Camel from the pack, smiled, leaned back
and shifted as we trucked on down
the highway, miles ticking by outside.

_________________________________
Tony Morris
‘s most recent book is Greatest Hits (Puddinghouse Press, 2012). Other books include Back to Cain (The Olive Press, 2006), and Fugue’s End (Birch Brook Press, 2004). His work has been published in Spoon River Review, Hawai’i Review, River Styx, Meridian, The Sewanee Theological Review, South Dakota Review, Connecticut Review, Mississippi Review, Green Mountains Review, and others. He is the managing editor of Southern Poetry Review, and director of the Ossabaw Island Writers’ Retreat.

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