What Are You Doing, Sheryl?

Moms unload their kids

for Kiddee Day on the midway.

Cheap rides to kill an afternoon

so hot us ride jockeys get away with stripping

down to muscle shirts. Nobody

shirtless on the job, that’s the rule.


We watch the moms watching us

behind their sunglasses. Bringing Johnny

back and back in line, making longer

conversation at us the longer

we let Johnny ride. Till it comes time

to run him back home, him screaming

he’d had way too much and wants more.


Near dusk just the moms and their best

girlfriends come strolling out of nowhere

all made up fresh. Nothing else that late

but stall till closing, set the ladies sidesaddle

on the merry-go-round, bum their smokes,

and let ‘em circle us all they need for free.


On the beach after we shut down,

we sit around a stick-fire,

passing 20s of malt liquor, inventing

who we are one lie at a time.

Laughing too loud and louder

the more we get twisted.


What are you doing, Sheryl? says

a tall man who’d walked up behind.

We all stand and puff our chests

like we’d defend her. Hubby

backs off weak-kneed on his own,

and Sheryl does right, walking away

and letting him chase her.


Another rule: If outside trouble finds you

don’t bring it home. There’s Sheryls

out there everywhere, some willing

to drive and try us again next town.

We don’t want no bad mess.

Though it’s fun sometimes to get cozy

and push up real close by.


The Pie Lady

Her pie wagon steamed early mornings

—far end of the midway—

with smells of home-baked sweets.

She chose me, of all the ride-jockeys

who schemed for a slice of her,

to drive her every few day for sacks of flour

and apples she could have managed

easily on her own. And we’d ride laughing,

two carnies shoved up in tight spaces

who never minded sitting close by.


I was just a kid, mostly, back then.

Saved up wages and bought new jeans,

light blue, almost white. Ruined them

first day with a smear of axel grease

across my thigh. Upon which the Pie Lady

gladly set to scrubbing me with a wet rag

and her own brand of miracle problem solver.

She worked and worked unstaining me.

Take ‘em off, she said and I did,

while the ovens bubbled with pie.


Lowell Jaeger


As founding editor of Many Voices Press, Lowell Jaeger compiled Poems Across the Big Sky, an anthology of Montana poets, and New Poets of the American West, an anthology of poets from 11 Western states. His third collection of poems, Suddenly Out of a Long Sleep (Arctos Press) was published in 2009 and was a finalist for the Paterson Award. His fourth collection, WE, (Main Street Rag Press) was published in 2010. He is the recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Montana Arts Council and winner of the Grolier Poetry Peace Prize. Most recently Jaeger was awarded the Montana Governor’s Humanities Award for his work in promoting thoughtful civic discourse.

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