What Two Bits Could Buy; Light Pollution
By: Kip Knott
What Two Bits Could Buy
for Patsy Cline, 1932-1963
Your life ended not long after mine began.
I can’t remember ever hearing you before
I turned twelve, twelve years after your death,
when your voice wept, dispossessed
from an outdated and battered jukebox
in the corner of a miners’ dive bar in
Corning, Ohio, a cinder of a coal town torn in half
by the yellow gash of Sunday Creek.
It only cost two bits to release you
from the Wurlitzer coffin that some part of me
believed held some part of you
the way the altar of St. Bernard’s held its holy relic.
My grandmother, the bartender every miner loved
to call “Babe,” tossed me the special red quarter
she plucked from the back of the till.
I listened as the coin rattled down its metal shaft,
clicking and clinking like a round of shot glasses
struck on the bar after another cancerous shift.
It took a moment for the first high, lonesome violin
notes to wheeze between a cacophony of hacking
black lung coughs. But then, like a cry
rising above a crowd of smoke ghosts,
those permanent shadows each man dragged
with him from the darkest corridors of the earth,
your voice carried me off to a better place
where there were only “Sweet dreams of you.”
Mount Rushmore, July 3, 2020
Pure, unadulterated nights blanket the world
less frequently with each passing day,
perfectly clear nights filled with so many stars
that their pinpoints of light actually hurt
our eyes when we try to draw invisible lines
that stretch out for light years
between them, lines that transform the stars
from cosmic Schrödinger's cats
into imaginary beasts we create
to vanquish out of our need to destroy
everything we see simply because
blindness is the best defense of tyrants.
Kip Knott's newest book of poetry--Tragedy, Ecstasy, Doom, and so on--is available from Kelsay Books. His writing and photographs have recently appeared or are forthcoming in Barren Magazine, Burningword Literary Journal, Northern Appalachia Review, One Art, and perhappened. More of his work can be accessed at kipknott.com.
"I wrote both of these poems this year on the 4th of July. “What Two Bits Could Buy” was written after reading James Wright’s book The Green Wall. The whole time I was reading Wright’s poetry, I had Ken Burns’ documentary Country Music (a documentary I’ve watched at least three times now!) playing in the background. Every time the documentary arrives at the moment of Patsy Cline’s death, I have to stop whatever it is that I’m doing and steel myself for what’s about to come. This time when “Sweet Dreams of You” began to play over images of the debris field of the plane crash that killed Patsy, I was transported back to the Stonefront Tavern, that miners’ dive bar in Corning, Ohio, where my grandmother worked for years after her retirement, and where I spent many hours as a kid washing glasses, emptying ashtrays, and playing Patsy’s music on the jukebox. And when the scene of mourners gathered at Patsy’s funeral faded to black, I wrote “What Two Bits Could Buy” with the hope that the next time I watched that scene (and there will be a next time!), it might not hurt so much.
Later that evening, I watched images of the Presidential fireworks display at Mount Rushmore on the news, appalled and enraged that such a gathering happened at all in the middle of a pandemic on land sacred to the Sioux Nation just to stoke the ego of a man whose worldly view stretches no further than the length of his necktie. The manufactured stars of fireworks that filled the sky over crowds of maskless faces and a row of stone-faced icons angered me even more, so I wrote “Light Pollution” as a way to express my feelings and save my family from another night of political laments. "