The Closest I Ever Got to Waylon Jennings
Was Meeting Johnny Cash
We sat in our Buick with the heater firing for two hours,
Me in footed pajamas and up half-past-late—
Waiting for Cash’s scene. Waiting for his Lincoln to careen
Over the gravel hill, slide the corner and point to his spot in front
Of the restaurant turned pool hall for this night only.
When we heard the director’s “CUT”,
We were the first standing before him, my father speechless,
But smiling to see the man who beat fire at its own game.
He pushed me forward
For him to sign the back of a bank deposit slip. My father,
Who had taken the night off work, unpaid,
Who had driven the miles after dark, despite night blindness
Pushed me forward as if I were his sacrifice
To a man who brought him through
Vietnam and a bad first marriage.
Even at that age, I knew
His songs, about the drugs, the rumors of jail time, the stints
Playing prisons like Christ preaching to those sad bastards in hell
And though he could hardly stand, even leaning on his stunt car,
I didn’t know he was three sheets gone. I only knew he smelled familiar,
Like my uncle who called me Rufus as he pitched me from his lap.
He handed back the slip, signed “John Cash,” said “You be a good son.”
All I heard was that he called me “son,” this man whose songs, my father chugged
Each night on the guitar while drinking Schlitz.
And for that night, all of us who’d gathered on South Main Street,
Were a country song—had missed the last train out, were rusty fenders,
Pill poppers, whiskey sluggers,
All carrying the weight of a dead brother in Arkansas, connected
Like tin cans on strings to Waylon and Loretta
And all the crackling monotones on AM radio,
To rhinestones, flashy cars and the good life,
Connected to something more than the hours
Between daylight and dark by a handshake.