“Motel Night Attendant” by Mark Evan Johnston

Mark Evan Johnston


Out here on Route 38,
I’ve learned the difference
between noise and sound.
Sound is familiar: the whirr
and clank of the ice machine,
the clink of a radiator,
the sough of the wind,
an occasional train.
Here noise means trouble.
Number 32, angry
with his wife, throws
a Gideon at her head.
I only hope he doesn’t
throw the lamp.
I sit here beneath
sixty watts of darkness
reading a trash novel,
waiting for the cheap tinkle
of this small bell to sound
but it never does.
Everything is in order:
the linens (call them that)
for tomorrow’s chambermaids (call them that),
the books, the Coke machine.
I make sure the Planter’s peanuts
don’t turn green
behind their sun-struck plastic.
Sometimes I almost hope
for trouble: a random shout,
an untimely splash in the pool,
a crying out that doesn’t
have to do with sex.
I want to have to go down
to Number 18 and set
things straight.
Years ago (here comes old Krebs),
we had a murder here,
before my time.
(He works the night-trick
at the mill.)
Some loon got trashed
(Krebs doesn’t stop to talk)
and poured beer on his wife
while she was getting off
on the Magic Fingers.
(Krebs always leaves
his shoes outside his door.)
He cried and tried to blame
it on the management, but
it came out he tampered
with the wires. Dupard
was his name, Canadian.
But don’t get me wrong.
I’m not looking to open up
Number 10 and find someone
dangling from the south end
of my sheets, or blood
pooling from under
the bathroom door.
Krebs, a night’s work himself,
has the country music on too loud.
The 3:15 sounds lonely,
the bell stands mute,
the buzzing of our new
neon sign would like
to drive me crazy.
But that’s not a noise.
That’s a sound.
No trouble tonight.

from Rattle #27, Summer 2007

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