route 22 by Bruce Longstreet

route-22

route 22

1.

through the two inch-speaker

of a japanese radio stashed under the pillow

you lulled me to sleep

and babbled all night

making

me think

it was always night time

on Route 22,

dark and cheap

on Route 22,

only after midnight did the commercials

come on

WABC.

 

WABC is omni-

present.

If you turn on your radio

and WABC is not there

then God

is dead.

 

On WABC God talks about

Route 22

so Route 22 is holy.

 

WABC is holy

50,000 watts of Cousin Brucie

(Can’t you hear that groovy beat,

now, baby?)

50,000 watts of Bobaloo

(Bobaloo, Bobaloo-i-a

The Big Bob Lewis Show!)

50,000 watts of Charlie Greer

(Swing! Charlie! Swing!)

and top forty early sixties rock and roll.

They hear God’s crackling voice

in Orlando, Florida!

San Juan, Puerto Rico!

On clear nights, God hits 38 states

and delivers this message to the faithful:

 

“Denison Clothiers, Route 22, Union, N.J.

Open 10AM ’til 5 the next morning,

one half-mile from The Flagship.”

 

That’s the nightly scripture reading to America.

They scratch their heads in Durham, N.C.

In the middle of the night God invites

you to come to Route 22

and buy a cheap suit.

 

“Money talks, Nobody walks,

It’s coffee break time at Denisen’s.”

2.

Ishamel peers

through the bars of the brig

of The Flagship,

New Jersey’s

most curious white elephant

at permanent dry dock in the center island

of Route 22.

Once nightclub, furniture shop,

1965 teenage discotheque,

nightclub again,

at drydock.

He sees too fast drivers

too drunk

whizz by The Flagship

he sees benzedrine truck drivers

hauling progress and comfort east

to New York

and west to King of Prussia, Pa.

He sees all night gamblers

needing breakfast and coffee,

And grim, seedy hitchhikers

needing a lift to the next life.

He sees on Route 22 a blinking storm of neon tack,

Las Vegas without the class,

hook shop come-ons for Tech Hi-Fi, Lido Diner,

R&S Auto Parts, Channel Lumber, Denisen’s,

McDonald’s.

Ishmael watches the tote board change,

Over 25 billion served.

3.

Denisen’s is gone and

WABC is nothing but a claque of

no-name Bible thumpers

in 4/4 time.

Charlie swings no more.

The new prophets are bored and

speak of new shrines, new Baals.

It is

still dark and cheap on Route 22,

as cheap as poet tears and Japanese radios.

And has no one sprung Ishmael?

He rattles the bars of the brig with his tin cup

and calls for the jailer.

He lies down on his cot and puts his radio

under his pillow and

dreams

of sharkskin suits and banlon shirts

and coffee break time

at Denisen’s.

(Route 22 is a poem I found in a long out of print literary anthology buried underneath a pile of moldy books in my basement.  All I know about the author, Bruce George Longstreet, is that he died 6 years ago.  He and I went to the same high school in Roselle, NJ. He used to be a DJ at the famous independent radio station WFMU. I would guess I’m the only person who’s read this poem in 30 years. Yet it’s as good a poem as you’ll find anywhere. Lots of places in America have a Route 22 but there’s only one Route 22 and Route 22 is really only Route 22 in Union, Springfield, and Mountainside, three dull suburbs 15 miles west of New York City. It’s a big part of my childhood, and Longstreet’s poem nails it. The only thing missing is just how dangerous it is.)

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One comment

  1. Thank you for republishing this poem. I enjoyed it this morning. Been thinking of our era when we have 50,000 + advertisements flashing at us (per day) from our own, supposedly smart, devices.

    Be well.
    Deborah

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