Standard Oil by Gary Duehr

Old Standard Oil service station with two men standing out front
Standard Oilcourtesy of State Archives of North Carolina (flickr.com). CC license.
There’s nothing here to see. Relax.
Beside a Coke machine, a guy who acts
As if he’s in a movie
Puffs on a Marlboro Light. It’s moody;
Nothing’s happening except
For blue sky, gas pumps, asphalt. Here’s the precept:
“Nothing comes from nothing” (Lear)
If there’s no plot, no drama here,
Then what is there to witness
Other than the act of witnessing? Unless:
Like Ruscha’s oil of LA’s County Museum on fire,
His Standard Station goes up as well, higher
And higher the orangish flames, the pall of smoke—
A kind of art world in-joke.
(One thinks of Hopper’s lonely station too
Along a Truro road, its bluish hue.)
So why would anybody stop and gaze?
Because of all the ways
That red and white can coexist:
Coke and t-shirt, billboard sign for Listerine, amidst
The crimson pumps, a pack
Of cigarettes, flattened on a tire track.
Near the end of one’s career
The details tend, like Claude Monet’s, to disappear.
And yet these vivid colors
Must have been here all along, a universe
Of nothingness before the Big Bang.

And little else to do but have a smoke and hang.


Gary Duehr has taught poetry and writing for institutions including Boston University, Lesley University, and Tufts University. His MFA is from the University of Iowa Writers Workshop. In 2001 he received an NEA Poetry Fellowship, and he has also received grants and fellowships from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, the LEF Foundation, and the Rockefeller Foundation. Journals in which his poems have appeared include Agni, American Literary Review, Chiron Review, Cottonwood, Hawaii Review, Hotel Amerika, Iowa Review, North American Review, and Southern Poetry Review. His books of poetry include In Passing (Grisaille Press, 2011), THE BIG BOOK OF WHY (Cobble Hill Books, 2008), Winter Light (Four Way Books, 1999) and Where Everyone Is Going To (St. Andrews College Press, 1999).

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