Thursday, September 18, 2014

When You Can't Remember the Last Time You Wrote a Poem, It Might Be Time to Write a Poem

If I had to guess, I would say sometime around 2006. And I think it was a sonnet. For an ex-girlfriend. It's probably for the best that I can't remember more than that. Let's make some new memories (by way of new verses).


My wife drives one of those little Smart Cars,
and she drives it hard.
If you're between her and Point B,
you are that-which-must-be-circumvented.
If you're behind her,
you're where you should be.

One day when I went to adjust my rearview mirror,
it snapped right off.
Suddenly, I was just holding it, like a banana or a remote control.
I dropped it on the passenger's seat--who needs it?
Everything it shows me is in the past;
better to keep my eyes on the future.

When Kima was a puppy, she used to vomit every time we took her in the car.
So we stopped feeding her before trips.
She would lie down on the backseat and drool all the way to Maryland.
And sometimes vomit anyway--greenish yuck.
Then, one day, she learned to sit up and look out the window.
Now, as she rides, she can take things in rather than let things out.

We took the Smart Car to Jim Thorpe one Valentine's Day weekend.
Thick patches of ice covered the streets and parking lots.
The first time we got stuck,
I wondered if we could simply pick the car up and move it off the ice.
Not quite. It's still a car. A little car, but a car. And we're little people.
People, but little people.

When I was 23, I bought a used Pontiac from a friend.
Never do this. Never buy a car from a friend. And never buy a used Pontiac.
After it wouldn't pass inspection,
she grudgingly agreed to take the car back and return my money.
We haven't spoken since.
Should've just taken the bus.

After I got my license and started driving by myself and with my friends,
I seemed to have a near-death experience at least once a week.
Perhaps, like many, I have a hyperbolic memory,
But I recall countless blown stop signs,
A myriad of reckless lane changes,
And a persistently foolish belief that acceleration could solve all problems.

During the winter we lived in Reading,
and Yuriko was commuting to and from Ursinus College,
in the Smart the traffic...
on 422, all frozen and black-iced,
I thought my share of paranoid thoughts,
which always ended in the unanswerable, "How will I go on?"

For three years in my 20s, I had no car at all.
One of those years was in Boston:
I bought a bus/subway combo pass.
I could go anywhere, as long as I wasn't in a hurry.
The other two years were in Binghamton.
Buses were free with my student ID, but it took forever to get to Wegmans.

In high school, I drove a Buick handed down to me from my sister.
For several months Paul Simon's "Graceland" was trapped in the tape deck.
The player had an auto-reverse feature,
so when one side ended, the other automatically began.
Over and over I went to Graceland, Graceland, Memphis, Tennessee,
with Paul Simon as my bodyguard.

I don't know if this actually happened: I was driving from Auburn to Albany,
on the New York State Thruway, in the middle of the night, not yet 20 years old.
I was exhausted and should not have been on the road.
Suddenly a car pulled out of the median, perpendicular to my progress.
I swerved onto the shoulder, narrowly evading it, nearly losing control;
then swerved back, Epicuriously, adrenaline pumping, awake and alive.

I've never had sex in a car.
(At least I can't remember ever having sex in a car.)
I've made out in cars, gotten to second base in cars, but that's it.
Did I miss out on some iconic, American teenage experience?
Should I make up for lost time,
even though so many more spacious locales are now readily available?

I was somewhere near Kutztown, headed to the Catskills for my bachelor party,
when Yuriko called me to say, through sobs, that Baylor, our dog, had collapsed.
I turned around and drove home, but of course there was nothing I could do.
Michael, our neighbor, helped me move his 90-pound body to my Nissan.
When I think of that handsome, joyful dog, I still feel that weight--
that weight that was no longer him.

I don't actually like cars.
In fact, I think the invention of the car was a disaster.
Think of how it accelerated the consumption of fossil fuels.
Think of how it catalyzed (sub)urban sprawl.
Think of the lives and living wasted by drunk drivers and traffic jams.
I dream of a world with more trains. And bicycles. And walking.

In 2002, a man named Bob and I pooled our money to buy a Geo Metro for $800.
We were in Sitka, Alaska.
Three months later, we decided to put it on a ferry to get back to the mainland,
and then drive it across the continent to upstate New York.
We saw aurora borealis in the Yukon, caribou along the Great Alaska Highway,
Superior waves in Thunder Bay; we lingered a few days in Sault Ste. Marie.

I know a woman who, years ago, drunkenly crashed her car into a house.
She confessed this to me one night as we dined at an Italian restaurant.
She had fled the scene. The police had never connected her to it.
Maybe I didn't know this woman.
Maybe she was a fiction whom a stranger and I both collaborated in creating.
Or maybe the parts of some people--or all people--just don't add up.

I'm nostalgic for the days before GPS, when I used to get lost all the time.
I believed getting lost and then unlost was the best way to learn my way around.
Maybe I still believe that.
At least back then, when I was lost, I knew I was lost.
Now I seem to disappear in my head every few miles, and then I'm on the road,
but I don't know which road, and I don't know if I know where I am.

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