Poetry: Selections from Old State Road by Jason Gerrish
What’s bad is factory work
What’s bad is 2nd shift
and seven 10s, for a month straight.
What’s bad is the drudging spirit of the place;
the obscene hum of 300 people
standing in front of sewing machines.
What’s good is thinking about someplace else.
What’s good is grasping at curtains.
What’s good is a blizzard.
What’s good is the sheriff,
closing all the roads.
What’s good is new paper
new ribbon and knowing that
no one will be stopping by.
I work at the Miss-Pu-Pee-She plant
across the river in Kentucky.
Ten hours a day, seven days a week,
they train me to sew leather seats.
They must plan on selling lots of cars.
I was running out of money
and I couldn’t write shit
all the crap that was in me
that I thought I could unload with ease
just wouldn’t come out;
all I did was drink,
until my stockpile
was nearly exhausted.
So I took the job.
I’ve been smart though
with my dirty green sewing money
I’ve been paying my bills forward, and
I did my research and determined
the cheapest beer and cigarettes
I can stand.
I’ll fill the freezer with lunch meat and bread
and rib eyes (when they go on sale).
What’s bad is a 30 pack of Keystone.
What’s bad is a carton of Dorals.
What’s confusing is factory girls.
The tender one training me to sew
caught me looking at her ass,
round and grown
like a pumpkin.
“What are you doing, Hal?
Do you think you can learn to sew?”
She has soft eyes,
pale skin, and high,
“It ain’t that bad,” she says,
“There’s a lot of couples that work here,
and they’ll raise a family with this job.”
I may have asked
if she ever read poetry.
What’s good is an apparatus
to get things moving.
What’s good is 8 cases of Milwaukee’s Best Light
all stacked in the closet, because
you can’t fit any more in the fridge.
What’s good is being the dishwasher
What’s good are the waitresses
and all the half-full bottles of wine
they bring with the mucked-up plates.
I pour them in coffee mugs,
so no one can see what I’m drinking.
What’s bad is musculum contagiosum.
What’s bad is wanting someone
more than they want you.
What’s good is her dark eyes.
What’s good is her bare neck and shoulders
in the low-cut, blue summer dress.
I once lived with a woman in Oakland
she came home each night and told me about her day
I could listen to her every word
every word was unpleasant and promising.
Her feet stunk from standing in worn shoes for hours
I would rub mint lotion on her soles
about her toes
and I would listen.
She insisted we make love every night
and in the morning, we would look on the other
and be cute in her shower
lathering one another up
until it was time to get dressed
and start it all over.
I haven’t seen that woman in years
I don’t even have a photo of her now.
What’s bad is drinking heavy at a blackjack table.
What’s bad is doubling down on a hard 12
What’s worse is splitting 10s.
What’s good is the river
What’s good is a stiff drink
on the bare upper deck of a casino boat,
rolling down the Mississippi at 1am, alone.
What’s bad is owing money to people you care about.
What’s bad is borrowing money you don’t want to earn.
What’s worse is seeing people you borrowed from,
out at a bar.
I spent a night in jail in Kentucky
there was not an innocent man in the cell.
The guards wouldn’t give me my cigarettes.
A man inside for not paying child support
spotted me several smokes.
The mother of a good friend
drove 50 miles to pay my bail.
What’s bad is young men with too much to say.
What’s profound is old men who say nothing.
What’s good is a day
that doesn’t demand you get dressed.
What’s bad is socks with holes.
What’s good is sadness
when you know it is all
you are ever going to find.
My father lives
somewhere in Rhode Island
I haven’t heard from him in years
I show him alone in a room
there are no pictures on the wall
only a clock and an ashtray
and a window that is cold.
What’s bad is wondering how her eyes finally saw you.
What’s bad is rolling your car off Ginger Ridge.
What’s bad is she won’t take your calls.
What’s bad is watching her walk.
What’s awkward is tomorrow.
What’s strange is praying at last.
What’s good is bourbon
What’s good is single malt whiskey.
What’s good is pretending
that she hasn’t changed.
out of the shower at 10 o’clock
and answering a phone call from the boss
“Shit,” I say, “I overslept. Be right in.”
“We start at 7, Lavoie.
I want to be done pruning, today.”
“I know,” I say,
“I’ll be right in.”
wanting some coffee, but the can is clean
lighting a smoke, and downing what is left in
the bottle of Riesling on the counter
then starting the car
and snaking down Roush Hill
to the river
and the vineyard.
forcing a corner
at 40 miles per hour
swerving to miss
a large something, in the road
running the passenger-side through a ditch
cutting the wheel hard
to get back out.
throwing open the car door
and shifting to my feet
witnessing the front tire
quickly going flat
scowling, but, plodding back,
to move the large something off the road
a snapping turtle.
reaching to seize him by his shell
his head and neck extending
further then I thought possible
pinching and severing
a bit of flesh from my
jaws open and hissing at me.
bleeding and throbbing at the stubborn
fuck still possessing the road, but
finding a long stick and
pushing him, across the blacktop
rolling him, into the ditch.
watching him, watching me
through a cross, speckled eye.
jacking up the car
changing the flat tire
making it to work
as everyone else is taking lunch
no one saying, “Hi”
no one asking where I’ve been
while dressing my torn-open finger.
working late alone
to keep up with the schedule
pruning the vine
for fruiting, and for renewal
pruning the vine
cleaning and honing my shears
oiling them and putting them up
sneaking coffee grounds
into a Ziplock bag
and two bottles
into a five-gallon bucket.
returning at dusk
the many white churches
climbing Roush Hill
remembering the turtle
then, parking in the gravel
beside the rusting house trailer.
uncorking the wine
and cleaning a glass
for reading and suffering
these poems written
nights before; and feeling
somethings creeping about
inching his way across
the yellowing kitchen floor
that he is being judged
and considering if
it is safer, under the stove.
with my foot
hearing his body give
under the weight of me
pouring more wine
leaving the roach where he lies
the typewriter mocking me
the bookshelf, staring me down
Bukowski, shouting that I don’t have the guts
Larry Brown, consenting that I’m just too nice
Carver, finishing a vodka
and looking entirely stoic
Wantling fighting off his demon
with a six pack and codeine
it starts with one true sentence
and if I can’t find that
I don’t have the disease.
remembering my old man’s dimly lit rented room
the smell of soiled laundry and cigarette smoke
finding him in the dark reading my notebook
approaching me intensely
“Please, don’t write
any more of this shit.”
one bottle gone, and uncorking another
noticing something going on
in the middle of the kitchen floor
ants, dismembering the dead roach I killed
then killing the ants as well.
two bottles gone and
more ants needing killed
their dead corpses growing in number
drinking and murdering
in the wing chair
there will be no rite
of passage but
ambling to the bath
in need of a shower
pushing the curtain aside, then
leaning into the tub and starting
rapidly crawling out of the drain
propelling forward with
trying to escape the
trying to crawl up
the walls of the tub
I’d been thinking her drowned
seeing the shiny black body
and the red spot on her back
she’s a widow
and it’s unfortunate
I’ll have to be killing her
for being true to the widow she is
walking to the kitchen
and making some coffee.
Jason Gerrish attended Morehead State University, where he earned his BA. His first collection of poetry Old State Road, in collaboration with photographer Brad Daulton, was published by UnCollected Press, in April 2021.