My sister and I were roadtripping
‘cross the west country in spring
our hire car was far from first choice
and broke down as darkness set in.
We were not far from an exit, and
left the car to find a phone
–this was before the blessed curse of mobiles.
A half-mile’s walk down a quiet highway
brought us to the sign, then the ramp–
only two miles to somewhere,
but the name was scratched out.
Em gave me a look–‘Something’s not right’
But I wasn’t going to stay in the car all night.
Besides, there were lights nearby,
and so we went to town–unknown.
There was music when we arrived,
and the sound of a crowd–a late evening parade?
‘Ah, newcomers!’ a man cried from our left.
He was dressed in pinstripes and a woven straw hat.
‘We’re celebrating our victory, you’ve come just in time!’
A parade it was, with floats and bands and wood-shod dancers
horses and candy and old classic cars,
and an ad for the fireworks
that were scheduled for later.
We were each given a lollipop
and creme soda–
no-one asked who we were. We shrugged to each other,
‘We’ll phone when it’s done.’
‘What town is this?’ I asked our companion.
Tipping his hat, he said, ‘We’ve just changed our name:
Tenemus–“We have it”.’
‘What do you have?’ my sister inquired.
‘Why, we have it all,’ and he winked as he said it.
‘The answers, the luck, the time in the world…
we have it all!’
‘Interesting,’ she mumbled, and I asked howso.
‘That’s what we’re celebrating,’ he said with a grin,
‘the main ceremony is about to begin!
We’ve got the Box, the truth in, and everything,
to the civic center with it we go!
Ah, there it is now!’
The crowd began to turn to the left,
to follow the parade up the street–
the reason was the Box being carried aloft,
the finale of the procession
festooned in ribbons and appreciation.
The civic center was but yards away from where we’d come in,
and we two and the Hat Man went to a window.
We saw the bearers bring in the Box, place it on a table
near the front wall, gave thanks.
They were back out in a moment–
the crowd gave a cheer for the fireworks!
We were taken in tow to the barbeque
our faces lit with purple, red, green
splashed across the sky
the band played the right numbers
the drinks were ice cold
all was rejoicing
’til someone heard screaming.
The janitor had been back in the center:
‘There’s a huge mess!’
The cause for his panic he couldn’t explain,
the mayor would just have to go with him.
Some of us followed, curiosity whetted
and saw a strange sight on the civic center floor.
The Box had not moved, garlands in place
but on the floor ‘neath the table
was a Mess–of a stone.
A great statue with ears, face to the ground,
hands at its shoulders.
The people just stared.
Said my sister to the Hat Man,
‘From where did that fall down?’
‘Nowhere, I’ve not seen it before.’
His throat was tight, his voice low.
His hat looked silly atop the gloom of his face.
‘I don’t recall it myself,’ I affirmed.
The people inside said the same thing–
‘What is it, where’d it come from?’
An alderman said, ‘It doesn’t matter’
An alderwoman:’Just find a way to clean it up.’
The janitor and the mayor and a few other men
actors by nature knelt in the Mess.
‘Come,’ said the Hat Man, ‘back to the party’
where we explained what had happened to those who asked.
No-one was too bothered, we went on with the night
but when the mayor returned a rumor went round–
the Mess had disappeared
as soon as picked up.
‘Problem solved!’ the Hat Man jubilated
‘We have it all again!’ and more cotton candy was handed down.
When the crowd grew thin, he introduced his aunt
who offered both phone and a bedroom for the night.
We accepted, found ourselves guests in a
with a hot shower and
pillows for forgetting.
Waffles and the Hat’s aunt greeted us in the morning
the former all it took to charm my sister.
A tow was on its way to our car,
so after ‘Goodbye!’ to our hostess
we began our trek out of town.
Walking down Bridge Street we saw a crowd
at that important place–the civic center
was abuzz anew in the bracing spring air.
We saw the Hat Man, no hat today–
I waved him over, looked inquisitive
and he said with a frowning shrug
or a shrugging frown:
‘The Mess was back today, but worse–
broken in pieces, hard to clean up!’
‘What did you do with it?’ Em asked.
‘It’s gone again, and
they say it’s okay, we’ve got the Box–
and though it’s true, it’s vanished, I’m just not sure.’
He then turned aside, and we turned to hurry
out of that town, as yet unknown.
We passed the limits in the daylight this time
and a sign face-flat on the ground
caught our eye–
Em took it by the edge and lifted it up
In big letters it read ‘Welcome to ASHDOD’
then ‘pop. 2,442’ and, ‘seeing is believing’.
She let it drop a moment later, as a voice said,
‘You didn’t know that’s where you are?’
We met the gaze of an old bearded man,
cane in one hand and eyes
somewhat dimmed by age
We replied with a nod– he looked back toward the town:
‘Neither do they.’ We didn’t wait, we ran,
didn’t breathe ’til we shook the hand of the driver
and he towed us away.
We passed the exit sign again–though this time we could read,
faint under the scratching, Ashdod, 2 miles,
and over it, Tenemus
but that couldn’t be seen in the dark.