When Joe Built a Radio Transmitter

With time and energy to burn, Joe took

to prowling junk stores, buying up spare parts—

chassis, turntables, tubes. Using his smarts,

and following instructions in a book,

he launched KJOE. Tchaikovsky's First

Concerto flowed from his studio late

one day, but before he could celebrate

the sweet taste of success, his bubble burst.

The switchboard lit up, blinking like a string

of Christmas lights, at KEX, where Game

Five of the World Series hung on one strike.

Fans screamed their wrath. The station vowed to wring

somebody's neck, not knowing who to blame.

Meanwhile, Joe waxed effusive through the mike,


announcing Brahms, complete with program notes,

the way a baseball commentator fills

the dead space with a player's batting skills—

in Joe's case, how the Fourth Symphony "floats

like a dark cloud over a frozen land,"

the words imprinted on the cardboard box.

Between the records and his little talks,

he kept the air waves filled; the narrow band

where baseball history was being made

was his, all his. The folks were at the store,

and I was outside, lounging on the fence,

when up the road I spied a motorcade,

two black sedans and a truck from a war

movie, with slits for windows, an immense


antenna spinning slowly overhead,

and a speaker with four horns. Fuzzy fears

crept up my spine and buzzed about my ears.

I saw the end, my body lying dead,

crisp as a strip of bacon in the beams

of Martian ray guns. Suddenly the truck

slowed to a crawl, its grid antenna stuck

in a narrowing arc. In all my dreams

I never thought my house would host a crime,

but sure enough, the truck pulled up in front

and stopped, its fixed antenna pointed straight

at me. Two men in snap-brimmed hats, meantime,

stepped from a car. The one who spoke was blunt:

"We're F.B.I. We're coming through the gate."


I ran inside and hollered up the stairs,

"They're here to take away your radio!"

Imagine their dismay when out strolled Joe,

a grin across his freckled face. Two pairs

of snap-brimmed hats popped from the second car,

six men, all told, in double-breasted suits

with shoulder-holstered gats. "You in cahoots

with anyone?" the spokesman asked. "Bizarre,"

said Joe. "It must have been the Viennese

waltzes." The folks got home before the feds

had time to rush the porch and break the door

down. With Joe's clandestine transmitter seized,

they piled back in their cars, shaking their heads

and muttering about the final score.