Buddy Holly’s Glasses

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Rotten shrimp, malfeasant minors, half-frozen chitterlings, pneumatic miracles, unit trains, vegetable kings, sweating excellencies, monarchs of disaster & Elby’s Big Boy.

W      hen Buddy Holly first kissed
my cousin Peggy Sue
in the back seat of Tommy Ciccalone’s father’s
stretch Cadillac Coupe de Ville
while riding 93 miles an hour
down Market Street Hill in Steubenville

just the day after
my grandfather J. C. “Ironhead” Hague
caught a nine-pound
channel cat on rotten shrimp
below the Paper Mill
while fishing with Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder
at eleven past two in the morning
and I watched it all happen,

and really just a week after
Wyo Santangelo in biology class
jammed a dissecting needle
clear through his thumb at the base of the nail
and walked around with it unremoved all day
enjoying the most famous hours of his life,

and I don’t think much more than a year or two
after I’d smoked that first Pall Mall in Wheeling,
at Nature Camp, and fell to the ground
right before supper, dizzy and gagging,

and not more than a decade or so before
Richard Nixon resigned while I was living in a trailer
in the woods and had the radio on
for the first time in weeks and heard it all
and treated myself to a two-day spree
and afterward went swimming naked in the creek,

Buddy took off his glasses
so they wouldn’t get smudged
by Peggy Sue’s makeup
and I said I’d hold them for him
and when the car stopped at the Elby’s Big Boy
in Weirton, West Virginia
for cheeseburgers and onion rings and
showing off what great beauties we had attracted,
I leaped out with his glasses on
and ran down the middle
of Freedom Way playing “That’ll Be The Day”
on air guitar and nineteen girls
including Madonna Jones and Desirina Castellini
leaped out of their cars
and screamed my name, and I answered
“Good Golly, Miss Molly,”

and not really much further back in time
than when I rode my Harley-Davidson 125 Hummer,
which I bought at Niedengard’s
in downtown Steubenville
with money I had saved from working
at Junedale Meat Market,
and had not yet been busted
by the Highway Patrol
who made me take off
a Saturday morning from work
to sit in the basement of the Court House
with other miscreants and malfeasants,
none over the age of 16,
and watch two hours of handmade film noir
taken at the actual locations of fatal accidents
in Ohio in which teenagers died,

the blonde heads of homecoming queens
rolling out from under flipped convertibles,
the bodies of two basketball stars hanging dead
from telephone wires 20 feet above the highway,
not rebounding, oh no,
but having been thrown there
by what the narrator styled
the “maniacal force of the impact,”
and followed up by
the flattened torso of a dude in a tuxedo
folded three times under a rolled pickup truck
and who didn’t quite make it to prom,
and then, after the movies were over,
I went back to Junedale’s and for five gagging hours
grubbed up bloody chuck roasts, slices of cold liver
and two-gallon buckets of half-frozen chitterlings
for drooling customers and tried not to barf
or even feel bad though I
would rather have been knocked out and thrown
overboard off some sinking boat
in the middle of the river
and left to drown happily and peacefully,

nor much beyond the time
when I first met the famous
Madonna Jones, named above,
West Virginian, Irish-Italian,
Madonna of the great front and rear,
Belle of the slag heaps and Harmon Creek,
hair black and shiny as anthracite, sapphire eyes,
pneumatic miracle of the mineral and biological,
the spiritual and the gynecological—

O tour of wonders!
spate of the incredible,
flood of the exponentially irrepressible!—
how the light of the mills glowed,
how the sky blushed red at midnight
and the blast furnace roared at its tapping,
and the unit train to Pitcairn passed,
panting diesel into the dark at Weirton Junction
and Bandini the Yardmaster danced
in his Pinocchio hat and cursed
everything and everybody
just on general principles,
and how Madonna’s chest heaved when I touched it
with the very fingertips I’d licked
the salt of my french fries off
just before, and how her
eyes closed and the lights of passing semis
glazed her eyelids with the whitest milk of passion
and my hands felt for salvation
even as I said her name and breathed it—

all the while, Buddy was in the front seat
talking music with Peggy Sue DeSpango,
daughter of the vegetable king of Steubenville—
artichokes, cauliflower, Italian parsley,
eggplant, olives of a dozen kinds—
and squinting because he couldn’t see
because I was holding his glasses for him
but because I was also holding, two-handed,
Madonna Jones,
I had put them down somewhere
in the vast blackness of Tommy’s daddy’s Cadillac,
so when Buddy snorted back, “God give me my glasses
there’s some things up here I’ve got to see”
just after I saw Peggy Sue
free herself of her cashmere sweater
but not the little gold crucifix she wore at her throat,
and I could tell they both were in a hurry,
and distracted,
and didn’t have time for long explanations
and really, Madonna Jones was in no mood
for talk, either, what with one thing and another of her
moving and sighing and moist,
I said, “Oh shit man I’ve lost them, I don’t know
where they are”—and I had, and I didn’t,
and Madonna was already fading,
the recently pliable heat of her
going stiff like a cooling marshmallow,

and it was almost as bad as the time
when Scrap Iron Kuzikowski
bragged he could eat an entire Cadillac
and spent the whole spring of 1960 doing just that
behind St. John’s Arena in Steubenville
and for two or three months after
he got out of the hospital
shit rust and washers and wrecked
the radio reception wherever he hung out,
but not before having told everybody
“Listen, my man here is cool, (meaning me)
he’ll finish the sucker”
and I had to hide out for three weeks
because I couldn’t even bite through a wire
let alone a headlight radiator differential
engine block and everybody knew it
but still in the meantime losing all the ground
I’d covered with Denise “Dynamite” Baroni,
Queen of the ample, all garlic and nipples and
golden olive-oil curls,

and Buddy yells from the front seat,
“What you mean you lost them?”
and I say,
“Man they just disappeared I don’t know”
and Madonna says,
“Oh good grief you can’t be serious”
and at that very moment
everything just goes out of me,
all the starch and headway I’ve made
and I fall back in Tommy Ciccalone’s dad’s
huge Cadillac Coupe de Ville with a back seat
so big you need a map to find the ashtray

and it’s all as bad as the time
Charley Parnell and Herbert Washington
and Guido Federico and I
were drinking Thunderbird

What’s the word?
               What’s the price?
               Thirty twice.
               How’s it taste?
               Real nice

on Angel Trail and heard somebody
coming up the steps and so jammed our bottles
down the backs of our pants
and it was the Bishop of Steubenville himself,
out jogging long before anybody but felons
and crazy people ran,
and he recognized us as altar boys
who served Pontifical High Mass
at St. Peter’s not long before:
“How are you, boys?” he said, pausing, puffing,
the bishoply sweat dark in his armpits
and across the flat of his belly,
“And how are your parents?”
and meanwhile my bottle has gone sideways
and I can feel a wetness starting just at my belt line
and running down my leg and
I know if I look down
I’ll see a big pool of wine spreading out
like a spilled moon
from my left foot and I can smell it and I know
His Excellency can or soon will too
and as a matter of fact exactly right then
he looks down and sees it and steps back
and says, I swear he said it, “What the hell?”
and it’s then, at that very moment,
that life is as bad
as when Buddy Holly asked me for his glasses
and I couldn’t find them:

This (sermon beginning:
come on in, Your Excellency, you can listen, too)
this is what growing up consists of, these moments
of absolute clarity, absolute doltishness,
moments in which it is utterly impossible to fail
any more miserably than you have,
screw-ups of the first magnitude,
and always getting caught:

theory—adolescence is a state of dream-in-waking,
the most unpredictable poetry,
the most random of randomnesses,
the most tripping-up of trip-ups
and anything can happen, and will,
just as a cigar in this dream called adolescence
is never a cigar, nor a vase a vase,
nor a fur muff a fur muff
but each is a part (heh-heh)
of the huge dirty joke
your flesh has dragged you into,
male or female,
priests and nuns notwithstanding, your parents
notwithstanding, the very bishop himself
in all his Excellency notwithstanding,
and even the smartest kid in the senior class can—
and will—screw up royally, become,
one innocent and unsuspecting evening,
the absolute monarch of disaster,
summa cum laude of stupidity,
in plain sight of his most secretly desired and
most impossible girl,
Madonna Jones, Dynamite Baroni, Peggy Sue—
the entire zodiac of beauty, woman and desire—

And this is what makes life bearable, after all,
that everyone screws up
that everyone sees everyone screw up,
and a kind of democracy arises
in which no one is more king or queen of dumb
than anyone else:
Let us all show our underwear at Assembly
on the opening day of high school;
let us all belch as we step to the mic at prom;
let us all be depantsed in front of our girlfriends
at the beginning of Lent;
let us all get caught smoking in the john:

O that’ll be the day

yeah, yeah, yeah.

Richard Hague is author or editor of twenty volumes. Currently writing and teaching for Originary Arts Initiative, he was previously artist-in-residence at Thomas More University. New work has appeared in Northern Appalachian Review, Appalachian Journal, Pine Mt. Sand & Gravel, Belt, and Verse and Image. He was the 2021-22 president of the Literary Club of Cincinnati, founded in 1849, the oldest continuously operating such club in the United States. This poem first appeared in a chapbook, Greatest Hits (Pudding House Publications, 2001), then in the full-length Public Hearings (Word Press, 2009).

Lead image: Clem Onojeghuo

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