RADIO SISTER JENNY
That annoying day I looked up to the radio and prayed,
“Forgive me lord for I have sinned,”
though I didn’t know exactly how, not at first.
But I soon got my kilowatt instruction,
stalled as I was in that 70s decade
with a flat tire and no spare and stuck at the Cavalry Hills motel.
Ten bucks a night back then,
for a room a Spartan would call too Spartan.
Cot, closet, desk, chair, toilet behind a curtain,
and that old wooden cross firmly nailed to the wall,
with an A.M. radio bolted to the desk,
that trumpeted only the unadorned word of god,
bracketed between a bandwidth of radio static.
Yes sir, praise the lord, the Amarillo Gospel Hour
that blasted salvation the entire night in half hour installments—
Pastor John, Preacher Bill, Rev Joab, Bishop Jeremiah,
and Sister Jenny the voice of every man’s scolding mamma.
She laid before me a smorgasbord of sins
and tongue lashed me into confessing every one, save one.
For with stern stepfather-like words she warned,
“Carnal self abuse is immortal soul abuse.”
But of that one I claimed innocence,
innocent of Onan’s under-the-blanket damnable rapturous sin,
at least for that backwater-motel-stranded night.
I bore witness before that straight-and-narrow lady,
that holier than thou anti-Lilith, that female rod of god,
“No sister Jenny, tonight my palms are free of hair, hallelujah.”
Yea verily while in the most Spartan room of Cavalry Hills,
Hellfire-and-brimstone Sister Jenny shined upon me
the divine light of the radio dial
as I kept my hands prayerlike and strictly above the blanket.
If they say knock‑knock
shut the lights, for you know who’s there.
They’ll say it again, but don’t answer.
They’ll start pounding the door.
They know you’re in. Still, don’t answer.
True you’ve been part of their vaudeville-like routine,
but you’re no one’s straight man, not anymore.
Besides, knock-knock is a tired unfunny joke.
Your silence will make them kick in the door.
They’ll flip the on the lights and reveal their harlequin makeup,
and discover that you’ve wiped away yours.
They’ll say knock‑knock so close you’ll smell their bad breath.
They’ll pretend to smile and expect you to smile in return.
But look serious. It’s a serious moment.
Finally they’ll play knock‑knock on your skull.
Endure concussion, close your eyes, watch the lights go out.
But this comic troupe needs a straight man,
and you have just quit.
From this moment on you’ll improvise
and no longer follow anyone’s script.
And when that climax comes
the final dark prank will be on them not you.
So with the butt of their jokes gone
and their punch lines undelivered,
the clowns will leave red faced,
their farce having flopped before no one’s applause.
Richard Fein was a finalist in The 2004 New York Center for Book Arts Chapbook Competition. A chapbook of his poems was published by Parallel Press, University of Wisconsin, Madison. He has been published in many web and print journals such as Reed, Southern Review, Roanoke Review, Skyline Magazine, Birmingham Poetry Review, Mississippi Review, Paris/atlantic, Canadian Dimension and many others.