Could have gone west. Could have packed your things,
who cares that you weren’t old enough to drive.
Could have sold yourself to truckers
and highwaymen. Could have gone down
the dark road between home and somewhere
better, the whole world watching tv and not one thinking of you.
Could’ve got lost. Could have said, “I don’t know”
when the waitress asked, “Where you live at?”
You could have lied and said, “New Jersey”
or “Mobile.” Of course, that assumes
you’d get past Mason Dixon.
You could have seen battlefields:
Gettysburg, Fredericksburg even Chicago
if you waded deep enough into summer. Could have slept
with your head on the ground like your sister,
her ear to the transistor, listening,
listening to “I Want to Hold Your Hand.”
You could have said, “Fuck the Beatles”
and left them behind, shooting the lights out
of every stadium, every coliseum.
You could have made girls scream because
you were the stranger under the bleachers, that ember
of the cigarette burning in the darkness just outside their
porch lights’ glow. You could have named them;
Helen, Rachelle, Ida May, and in Texas Irene Rosenberg
a girl just as lonely as you. Imagine,
your leaving before it ever got started. Where’s that
girl you married? You don’t know. You were half way
to Billings or Provo or Bend. You watched the cities
of the Midwest burn. You threw bottles and never
cut your hair. Remember the drum kit in Schlessinger’s
Instruments? How you crawled through the broken
window and banged away in the shards of that city.
If they could have seen you then! All muscle
and heart, sweating, sweating no more stupid melody
holding you back. Just the bass line, just the gas line
hissing and your foot on the pedal.
You could have gotten away. The country was different.
A boy could walk without getting beaten beyond an inch
of his life, without getting lashed to a fence
in God forsaken Wyoming. Why, God hadn’t forsaken
Wyoming or Birmingham yet. Chaney, Goodman,
and Schwerner safe in their beds. Perhaps you passed
by them. You could have passed me by and saved yourself
the whole mess. My mother doesn’t know you yet. She’s
on her back in the grass with some other man’s son.
**Gabrielle Calvocoressi** is the author of The Last Time I Saw Amelia Earhart: Poems and Apocalyptic Swing (forthcoming August 2009). She teaches in the MFA program at Warren Wilson College and lives in Los Angeles.
Alphabet by Inger Christensen