local_library Listening to New Vinyl

by John McDermott

Published in Issue No. 179 ~ April, 2012

Listening to new vinyl,

I was just thirteen, a virgin,

with too much time

in the late afternoon

and too much mascara


stolen from my older sisters

who were gone with boys and jobs,

serving burgers and filling cokes.

The headphones were heavy

and the music loud, buzzing chords,


while my mother and father

fought in the kitchen, gin and tonics

spilled in clear lakes on the table.

The guitars swirled between my braids,

my hair like an Indian princess—


still black then—and my sisters

were young, too, before babies

and other bastards, before our mother

dropped dead in a gas station, the hose

still hooked into her tank, half full,


and our father ran away to New Mexico

with a salesgirl half his age with hair like ours,

straight and thick, her soft smile like all the lips

on album covers, the album covers

crossed over my knees every afternoon


when my room grew gray and only thin

orange light slipped in under the shades

and the bass kept the beat and I didn’t hate

any of them, not yet, not even now,

because I was so far behind them, so young,


and this afternoon all the albums are scratched,

or warped from tilting in over-stuffed boxes

next to radiators in Chicago, cross-country

car trips, packed in the back of vans

and station wagons, and none of the songs


are new anymore, all of the problems predictable,

and New Mexico turned out to be bleak,

as bleak as any Hell my father’d had before,

and while I can’t say I was sorry for him,

he was always free with an extra dollar


to buy another new release, a forty-five,

or better, a whole record for me to hide in,

to learn from, to memorize and hum,

songs like walls, or better, windows,

while everyone else burned or drowned around me.

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John A. McDermott's work has appeared in a variety of journals, including Alaska Quarterly Review, Cream City Review, Cutbank, Florida Review, and Juked. He teaches at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogoches, Texas, where he directs the BFA program in creative writing.