There’s scene in Peter
Bogdanovich’s film, The Last Picture Show, that inspired this poem. As the film opens, the camera slowly
pans down the dusty, windblown and empty street of a tiny
We lived in Lancaster, a one-street town back then, inhabiting a Quonset hut recently vacated by members of the wartime RAF, who were training at nearby Quartz Hill. My father held various jobs, including dynamiter and test driver for the U.S. Rubber Company. Mom had her hands full keeping the dust out.
By now, I’ve tossed
back my years
like straight shots, glasses
lined up on a polished bar
in a well-loved, deserted saloon
and the memories
burn my belly, a pleasant, spreading pain,
before a hazy “B” picture
of times long past begins to flicker
in my brain. I sit back to enjoy the show.
“Oh.” I think, “They are all alive again.”
whistling through the screen door,
see the crumpled newspaper bounce
across the lonesome street,
hear cowboy music on the radio,
smell the sage out where coyotes prowl
yet never see an actor
or puzzle about their lines.
before dad and mom ride in
from the desert outside the town,
she on a pinto mare and he on a buckskin stud,
both with their hats pushed back,
saddle conchos flashing silver in the sun,
laughing together after a fight,
lovers, always lovers in the end.
But damned if they do and damned
if the wind won’t chase nothing but dust
and yesterday’s paper
on down the street.
It’s then I pull back to see the camera crew,
and the director
trying like hell not to tell any lies
and the screenwriter scribbling changes.