Radio Time
J. T. Ledbetter (bio)

-for Dennis Bartel

They listened to the voice on the radio, thinking, “My Gawd,
the man has a voice!” Down the street those with a Philco
gathered round and opened folding chairs and sat on the floor
until the man said “Shhhh...” and it was quiet, hearts slowed,
mouths chewed air and hands unclenched: it was Radio Time.

His voice was there and there—and over there in the town
where a murderer once lived and up Mill Hill where deer walked
among the gravestones where widows wept. Nothing like that
lives now, they say, then someone says yes it does—the voice lives,
like we do in pants and straw hats and dresses that billow out
on summery nights when children find they are something other,
not babies and not grownups, half-human, half sprite and a hidden
percentage of stardust out of God’s eyes.

“Nothing comes out like that man’s voice, nothing like that now,”
says my grandmother, and draws her shawl over her shoulders.

“Yes it does,” says Cousin Rose from Cincinnati. “Remember when
we gathered round Grandfather’s Philco and got comfortable with popcorn,
sort of sucking on it so’s not to make noise when that voice came out
and over and through us with news or weather and now and then
a meditation life centered around corn and hogs and taxes
and what it meant to be an American family gathered close when
that voice came on and the world slowed and autumn leaves swirled
and curled down like old pictures falling out of albums onto rivers we heard
and felt running down their muddy banks to the great Mississippi going south
to that wondrous place where rivers and memories meet,
spilling over like a rain barrel into space’s voice, knowing it’s our voice
and that it has always been our voice, the River still running and folks
still hoping for a voice and...”

“...HUSH TALKING,” somebody says... “here it comes....”

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