The Gas Station

by C. K. Williams

C. K. Williams

This is before I'd read Nietzsche. Before Kant or Kierkegaard, even before
Whitman and Yeats.
I don't think there were three words in my head yet. I knew perhaps,
that I should suffer,
I can remember I almost cried for this or for that, nothing special, nothing
to speak of.
Probably I was mad with grief for the loss of my childhood, but I wouldn't
have known that.
It's dawn. A gas station. Route twenty-two. I remember exactly: route
twenty-two curved,
there was a squat, striped concrete divider they'd put in after a plague of
The gas station? Texaco, Esso -- I don't know. They were just words
anyway then, just what their signs said.
I wouldn't have understood the first thing about monopoly or imperialist
or oppression.
It's dawn. It's so late. Even then, when I was never tired, I'm just holding
Slumped on my friend's shoulder, I watch the relentless, wordless misery
of the route twenty-two sky
that seems to be filming my face with a grainy oil I keep trying to rub
off or in.
Why are we here? Because one of my friends, in the men's room over
there, has blue balls.
He has to jerk off. I don't know what that means, "blue balls," or why
he has to do that—
It must be important to have to stop here after this long night, but I don't
I'm just trying, I think, to keep my head as empty as I can for as long
as I can.
One of my other friends is asleep. He's so ugly, his mouth hanging, slack
and wet.
Another -- I'll never see this one again -- stares from the window as though
he were frightened.
Here's what we've done. We were in Times Square, a pimp found us,
corralled us, led us somewhere,
down a dark street, another dark street, up dark stairs, dark hall, dark
where his whore, his girl, or his wife or his mother for all I know dragged
herself from her sleep,
propped herself on an elbow, gazed into the dark hall, and agreed, for
two dollars each, to take care of us.
Take care of us. Some of the words that come through me now seem to
stay, to hook in.
My friend in the bathroom is taking so long. The filthy sky must be
starting to lighten.
It took me a long time, too, with the woman, I mean. Did I mention
that she, the woman, the whore or the mother,
was having her time and all she would deign to do was to blow us? Did I
say that? Deign? Blow?
What a joy, though, the idea was in those days. Blown! What a thing
to tell the next day.
She only deigned, though, no more. She was like a machine. When I
lift her back to me now,
there's nothing there but that dark, curly head, working, a machine, up
and down, and now,
Freud, Marx, Fathers, tell me, what am I, doing this, telling this, on
her, on myself,
hammering it down, cementing it, sealing it in, but a machine, too?
Why am I doing this?
I still haven't read Augustine. I don't understand Chomsky that well.
Should I?
My friend at last comes back. Maybe the right words were there all along.
Complicity. Wonder.
How pure we were then, before Rimbaud, before Blake. Grace. Love.
Take care of us. Please.

Last updated October 03, 2022