Thursday, October 22, 2009


Martín Espada is a poet, of Puerto Rican descent, who grew up in Brooklyn and currently teaches at the University of Massachusetts. Somewhere in between, he wrote a poem called "Rednecks," set in Gaithersburg. Considering what the area around Darnestown Road looks like now, it's hard to imagine that necks here were ever red.

(I met many people who were rednecks - some self-identified, most vigorously denying it - growing up near Burtonsville, but I will give them the benefit of the doubt.)

Gaithersburg, Maryland

At Scot Gas, Darnestown Road,
the high school boys
pumping gas
would snicker at the rednecks.
Every Saturday night there was Earl,
puckering his liquor-smashed face
to announce that he was driving
across the bridge, a bridge spanning
only the whiskey river
that bubbled in his stomach.
Earl's car, one side crumpled like his nose,
would circle closely around the pumps,
turn signal winking relentlessly.

Another pickup truck morning,
and rednecks. Loitering
in our red uniforms, we watched
as a pickup rumbled through.
We expected: "Fill it with no-lead, boy,
and gimme a cash ticket."
We expected the farmer with sideburns
and a pompadour.
We, with new diplomas framed
at home, never expected the woman.
Her face was a purple rubber mask
melting off her head, scars rippling down
where the fire seared her freak face,
leaving her a carnival where high school boys
paid a quarter to look, and look away.

No one took the pump. The farmer saw us standing
in our red uniforms, a regiment of illiterate conscripts.
Still watching us, he leaned across the seat of the truck
and kissed her. He kissed her
all over her happy ruined face, kissed her
as I pumped the gas and scraped the windshield
and measured the oil, he kept kissing her.


WashingtonGardener said...

I'm dating myself here - but back in high school mid-80s at Seneca Valley there was an after school parking lot rumble between the Hicks and the Punks. No lie. The tensions between the two groups had been long simmering. Basically, it was the kids of the new suburbanites and the farm families butting heads. Ah, the "good old days" - not.

Dan Reed said...

We had Hicks and Punks at Blake High (five years ago), though our Hicks were a little more reserved. Our school wasn't jokingly called the "liberal faggy school on a hill" because of a large population of Republicans, except for one, and we don't really talk about her. (She was neither Hick nor Punk.)