One Excuse or Another


Joseph Gastiger grew up in Westbury, a working class town on Long Island, attended SUNY Stony Brook and the University of Iowa, and did graduate work at Colorado State University where he was part of a cohort that included poets Yusef Komunyakaa, William Michael Ryan, Jay P. White and John Bradley. He received a PhD from Northern Illinois University, where he subsequently taught writing and literature for a number of years, and was coordinator of its Honors Program. His poems have been widely published in journals and anthologies, including Princeton Arts ReviewSycamore ReviewTriQuarterlyNew Voices: Poetry and Fiction from Colorado State University, Benchmark: Anthology of Contemporary Illinois Poetry, among others. His first book, Loose Talk, was published by Lost Horse Press in 2012. He lives with his wife in DeKalb, Illinois, where he is pastor of the First Congregational Church of Christ, and, as W.C. Williams said of himself, the happy genius of his household.


One Excuse or Another

I get this ache right here between my shoulder blades every fall, ever since Sonny Terry died. I get this burning in my fingertips ever since Howlin’ Wolf gave up the ghost. Last time I saw you was doing a hoodoo dance at a roadhouse near Mobile, draped in an altar cloth, swaying below a sickle moon. Caught in some foregone conclusion of your own. Even in rags, what with those eyes, those lovely hips, you could make Sinbad forget all seven seas. Part of me felt like a human grenade anyone might set off, because the devil walks this world. Fact of it was, no one paid me much attention at all. Since I’d drifted so far beyond the scope of what little bravado I had, my comfort zone crawled in bed with a barber miles away. Various combinations of tough luck, lust, and moonshine floundered past me through the corn. Almost as if each of us nursed the secret hope somehow some day we could get on that quiz show, The Need Is Real. I may not be the saddest fat man in Lisbon, but I was blue, all right, bluer than paint fumes in a janitor’s closet with One Eyed Jill. Anything I came to say had already been batted around numerous times by all the other busted machines in the room of voices. All I could do was go on back to strumming this box guitar at the crossroads, until the rooster crowed or that train ran out of track.

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