Elegy with a Road Running ThroughIn the back seat of a Cadillac, somewhere between Knoxville, TN and Oak Hill, WV, sometime between the late hours of New Year’s Eve, 1952, and first hours of 1953, Hank Williams died of heart failure at the age of 29.
It begins the morning after a night
of cards and whiskey and pumpkin spice,
the woman and the dog and me headed
to Bristol, TN, for a stop at the auto parts store
and a hot breakfast. Just off State St., The Burger Bar
is open, a little corner diner with two booths
and one long bar, a griddle with a damn good story.
And as I sit down and order, coffee and eggs,
two sides of bacon, it begins again with newspaper
clippings and album covers on the walls,
the windows, it begins again in 1952
on New Year’s Eve, a Cadillac convertible parked
outside holding Hank Williams warm like a baby,
he’s got a bad back, he’s got a song in his head,
he’s got a driver gone inside for a sandwich.
The story gets fuzzy around here—if Hank
got out or not, or just sat in the car,
if he was already dead or just tired, laid out
in the back seat staring at the famous Bristol lights
on Piedmont Ave. dividing two states.
On one side of the road, Virginia. On the other,
Tennessee. In between, everything that exists
inside the borders of things, everything
unknown and magical and dark
as the wet asphalt. The evening for him, the morning
for me, and I’m drowsy and a little hungover
and am talking to Jan about our future:
talk of a move, hope for a good job,
kids, a place to stick around in for a while.
We like it in Bristol. The lights echo down the road
of the down-town. It’s the birthplace of country music.
In short, everything about the place twangs.
Our food comes, and I look up from my plate
and read another article, another attempt to solve
the mystery of Hank’s last hours. By most accounts,
this was the last place he stopped. Perhaps the last words
he ever spoke were just outside the small front door,
on the sidewalk, under the moonlight and in a space
between states, between time, between years.
It all kind of hurts me in a strange way. What was it
he said, or saw here. I put my ear to the formica
and try to listen. Moment leading to moment,
things get done. Answers remain unanswered.
We finish, pay, and head outside.
I climb into the truck and turn the radio
to a good country station they have here
that plays the classics, half expecting the world
to line-up, to hear his voice. But it’s not him.
He’s gone. I listen anyway, silent,
as another day opens up and runs.