Meeting of the Titans
When by chance he encountered his idol
on the airplane, both taking the same flight,
Randall Jarrell was like a kid at the stadium,
autograph book in hand.
The legendary quarterback of the Baltimore Colts,
champion of the Greatest Game Ever Played,
about whom Jarrell rhapsodized to his classes –
Jarrell, winner of The National Book Award
for The Woman at the Washington Zoo,
Consultant in Poetry at the Library in Congress
(what was later renamed Poet Laureate of the United States),
recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship,
lecturer in the Princeton Seminars in Literary Criticism,
author of a couple of dozen books
(only about half a dozen when they met) –
Number Nineteen had never heard of Jarrell.
A crushing disappointment.
But then, as Jarrell himself noted –
he who suffered from depression and would later
fling himself in front of a speeding car,
though never technically labeled a suicide –
people do not understand poets or poetry,
“Take Johnny Unitas,” he remarked,
by way of illustration,
“Only a few people up in the stands
understand what he is doing.
Most of them have seen only a few games,
they couldn’t hope to understand
what is going on.”
Still, wouldn’t it have been something
had Johnny U. recognized greatness
when it approached him on an airplane?
“Oh, right. They pump your gas for you
in the state of New Jersey,” I reflected.
We’d just pulled into an Exxon
on our way to Cape May for the weekend.
In an era of self-service automation –
self-checkout grocery scanners,
ATMs instead of bank tellers doling out the dollars –
this rule you couldn’t pump your own gas
seemed quaint and anachronistic,
and I even felt like a hostage,
our departure dependent on the whim of this kid,
when he’d take our money,
when he’d bring us our change,
and I remembered my old man,
thirty-five years ago back in Michigan,
pulling up at a pump and being told
he had to fill his own gas tank.
“Piss on this,” he’d muttered, incensed.
“I’m not going to do their work for them.”
Even though I offered to get out and do it myself,
he drove away in a pique;
we circled the town another half an hour
until we found a service station
with a boy who did it for us.
He even checked the oil,
wiped the windshield.
My father drove away, happy.
Charles Rammelkamp is Prose Editor for BrickHouse Books in Baltimore, where he lives, and edits The Potomac, an online literary journal – http://thepotomacjournal.com . His photographs, poetry and fiction have appeared in many literary journals. His latest books are a collection of poems called Mata Hari: Eye of the Day and another poetry collection, American Zeitgeist, both published by Apprentice House, Loyola University.