XERF by Brandon Whitehead

If you go out into the Sierra Madre Desert,
to a point absolutely nowhere special,
you might just find an old man sittin’
in a cracked plastic pool chair
under a pink toy parasol.
He comes out every night
with a pack of Lucky Strikes
and a case of Iron City beer
(don’t ask where he got it…)
and stares at the sky until sunrise.

He’s sittin’ on the border, you see,
listening to good ol’ XERF.

It was back in the 30’s
when a goat-gland loving bible-thumping
serial killer from Kansas named Brinkley
went south to spread the word of God.
He bought himself an AM transmitter
in Villa Acuna, just south of Del Rio.
50,000 watts was as big as they allowed
him in the States, but in Mexico Doc got 500,000.

He’d throw that huge sucker’s switch
right at sundown and half-a-million watts
would strum out like Jehovah’s bass-line.
It blew the birds right out of the sky,
made rancher’s barbwire hum and moan.
Cowboys listened to the “Texas Night Train”
through their bunkhouse bedsprings,
Norwegian fishermen cranked up
Boomin’Paul Kallinger
to shake the ice off the Bering straights.

Yes sir, the KGB learned English
from Wolfman Jack (true story).

Now, the man get to hear it all again,
the shows, the music, the voices
as if he was still a boy
and the world bright and new,
because long ago in a valley called
Inchon, the North Koreans gave him
(a fresh young PFC then)
a gift to remember them by,
a chunk of bullet forever lodged in his skull
under his bald pock-marked scalp.

You see, if he turns his head
just right, that bit of iron
needles across the sky
like an old radio tuner.

There, trapped in the aether above
is XERF, and a time he can still understand,
before computers and hippies
and those people on TV who smile too much.
So the man sits out here
listening to electromagnetic phantoms
echoing through the sky,
not bothering nobody,
not the border guards
who watch a flat land all day
and couldn’t catch a cold
if they tried or the VA doctors
who have asked him
“So, where were you hit?”
for four decades running
or even the coyotes
who keep trying
to steal his shoes.

____________

 

Brandon Whitehead is a writer. He lives in Kansas.

 

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