Category Archives: Car Sonnets

Imperiled

The snow’s off-white, the house is white, the sky
is pewter-gray, the buggy’s black, and also black:
the horses and most of the laundry on the line
except for a little rose and green and one kind
of blue so patently Amish it should be called that.
Oh, and the underwear, the private flying
proudly in the open, nothing white,
just various degrees of beige that look like linen
sails billowing, contrasting very slightly
with the piles of dirty snow they’ve shoved aside,
the temporary patio furniture of winter
the children might jump off of when there’s time,
when they’re not hard at work or cutting a slice
down the shoulder of the road: when it’s ice
I’ve heard they skate there but I
have only ever seen them standing by
their parents or in a circle outside
what I think is a school where they were either
playing or getting ready to fight,
which I know they aren’t supposed to do. So why
did it look so menacing, the four or five
boys I saw, closing in on another child
as I drove by, that’s what I do, I drive on by,
that’s what we do out here, the road signs
with the graphic horse and buggy trying
to tell us slow down, watch out, use your eyes,
because the next hill you’ll go over is blind
and you won’t see them until you’re right
on top of them, a whole family on your right
with bright specks of color but mostly wearing night.

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This month I’m trying to hunt for green as I drive–I’m considering it mindful driving. One of the shades of green I see on Mondays when I’m driving to Kickapoo High School, as I drive through Amish Country, is the occasional green shirt on the clotheslines of Amish families–close to the shade above. The laundry on the line is mostly black and beige. But some blue and green and a shade of kind of rosy-plum.

And then you see the crossing guard dancing

She has the greatest hats, this crossing guard, cheesehead of course,
and jester’s bells, but lately there is no hat capable of covering up
her bare head so you know there’s chemo of some kind happening
which you haven’t mentioned to your kid but of course he’s noticed.

Sometimes each day’s a shithole full of rotted wood and spikes,
rusted iron ones that gouge you on the way down and down
and unfortunately you can’t stop knowing then, there’s always more
bad news and bad decisions and consequences you kind of did
but didn’t quite deserve but then the Pogues are next in the queue
and there isn’t anyone better than Shane MacGowan to illustrate
however much life sucks, however big a mess it is, there is joy
and music in the middle of it, in the goddam muck of the middle of it,

and then you see the crossing guard dancing as she points and signals
and you and your son together feel brought low by her being sick
then lifted up by her dancing and you nearly sob on the way to work
with happiness, with gratitude, for drunk tanks and police choirs
and you say out loud, “my heart” by which you mean your child,
and also the leaves starting to change color, and just your little, little life.

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Gullywasher

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At least no one was tailgating tonight
on the way home from work. It was a mess
of almost hydroplaning in the ruts
and lightning striking—BAM! with thunder right
away. And super low visibility
sometimes, I’d think “I should pull over now”
but then I couldn’t see where or how
and then it would clear up a little. Briefly.

The mulberries and mulberry-flavored bird shit
on my car is gone, washed away to compost
somewhere I don’t know where. Is that it?
You accept your level of suffering and the most
you can do in the dark is find the tiniest spot
of light? Clean car, and I’m alive. That’s actually a lot.

Purgatory, Kentucky (done?)

It got to where I couldn’t see a way
ahead except for dying. So I went.
Or, so I came. Just where, I couldn’t say.
It’s odd. Some kind of grass, or cane, all bent
this way and that, slick at the root,
and spiky sharp half the time, black as coal,
but soft enough to lie down in, some spots.
I’d have slept more, but my dreams are full
of nasty animals and dead presidents.
I got attacked by a whole fleet of armadillos
in a river. An armada. Is that what you call it?
Abraham Lincoln himself chopping wood. “Hello
Mr. Penny Man,” I said. He spoke not a word.
But this ain’t Hell. Of that I am assured.

This ain’t hell. Of that I am assured.
Would there be moderately cold beer or
would they let me keep my truck if torture
was on the agenda for now and ever after?
You might say yes, but I think not. No way.
I will admit that I have odd dreams.
But nothing scary, really. Nothing mean.
Just weird. Like a really long nap in the middle of the day.
There’s not much else to do. I could reflect
on all my trials and tribulations, the error
of my ways, but where would be the profit in that?
The wicked queen’s mistake was looking in the mirror.
She couldn’t rest in her own head and let
the young ones be the ones to stew and fret.

The young ones are the ones who stew and fret,
yes, even here they do. I tell them to relax,
but I do recall what it was like, to be fraught
with longing for a certain someone’s kiss,
the way a particular set of hard calluses
could raise a wave of shivers on my skin,
then one touch later heat me up fast,
so hot for more, I would do anything….
There is no profit in that kind of thought.
The man whose hands I speak of is not here.
I’ve grown restless all the sudden, not
full of life, I wouldn’t say, just bored.
Turns out I dislike it, this world without end.
The ferry’s here. I guess I’ll drive on in.

The ferry’s here. I guess I’ll drive on in.
I tell you if I’d known I’d have my truck
on this side of, well, whatever side I’m on,
I’d have done myself in sooner. Just my luck
the ignition switch is still a fussy thing
which I guess means this isn’t heaven.
I never really minded when it wouldn’t start,
just took the time to admire my good old Ford,
Bought it new in ’72, Grabber Blue,
What was there me and my girl couldn’t do?
My favorite thing I ever hauled? An outhouse
that my Mama did NOT want me to take away.
“When your crazy cousin Vernon visits,
I like to have a quiet place to pray.”

I like to have a quiet place to pray,
and sitting, waiting, in my truck, well that’s
about as quiet as it ever gets
because the radio died in ’88.
When a radio dies where does its music go?
They say sound waves never really go away.
I don’t understand everything I know
about that. I guess I believe that sound’s a wave.
I guess I believe there are tiny bones in my ear,
a hammer and an anvil and a horseshoe? Is that right?
I wonder if they’ll be taking questions there.
I wonder if it’s always kind of twilight.
There’s the ferry now—I guess it’s time
I got myself in gear and got in line.

I got myself in gear and got in line
but wow, this line’s not moving. Not at all.
Then suddenly I’m hearing “Begin the Beguine”
a song I didn’t even know I knew. There’s a swell
of trumpets and what is that? An oboe? I don’t know.
And now a woman in a cape has stopped
by my truck. She’s a nun. So I guess it’s not a cape.
She says she’s a Beguine. Go with the flow
is what I’m thinking. There. We’re moving some.
The nun is in my truck. She sings along
to “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.” I only hum.
I never could remember all the words to a song.
And now we’re going slow again, so slow
we might be backing up. I just don’t know.

We might be backing up. I just don’t know
if I’m alive or dead, asleep, awake–
but then, my whole life (a hundred years ago)
has been like that, blurry on the day-to-day
and sharp, in focus, only now and then.
Is that depression? Or is it being dumb
about what matters? I kind of drift along
a lot. My favorite thing was being at home,
just doing nothing, which is why my house is a mess.
Or was a mess. I’m sure it’s still a mess.
I’m the only one who ever cleaned.
But if I’m dead, what’s home? That’s what I mean.
There’s really nothing left to do but pray.
It’s gotten to where I cannot see the way.

_____

I began writing this crown of sonnets in April of 2013, as part of National Poetry Month, and NaPoWriMo.  I’m slow.  I would remember it every now and then and add a sonnet to it.

It’s a curious project–it began as a challenge sonnet when I was on my way to Manitowoc to do a reading.  I can’t remember all the parts of the challenge, though I think Abraham Lincoln was in it, and I definitely remember my friend Becky asking that I include Boyd Crowder’s hair.

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This is Walton Goggins, who played Boyd Crowder on Justified. On the show, I think Boyd used more hair product. (Image from Wikimedia Commons)

Because I loved Justified so much, putting Boyd in the poem opened all sorts of possibilities. I immediately heard the voice of Mags Bennett, played by the amazing Margo Martindale (one of the best villains with one of the best story arcs in all of tv land, ever). That’s why it was Purgatory, Kentucky.

But as I wrote it, I was less and less sure of Mags’ voice in the poem, or the need to have her narrate, so I’ve revised a lot of that out of it.

It doesn’t have much to do with Kentucky at this point, so I’ll probably change the title. It could be Purgatory, Illinois.  The outhouse portion happened in Southern Illinois, which is itself sort of a blurry place, not entirely southern, not entirely midwestern…  I actually like the sound of Purgatory, Illinois.

In any case, I believe the draft is done, and that means that I’ve now written four crowns–“Mothering God” was the first, and then “Each Other’s Anodyne,” and then “Mobius Strip of a Man,” and then this one.  I’m now working on a heroic crown of sonnets about my back surgery at the Shriner’s Hospital for Crippled Children (it’s not called that anymore).  I actually have this vague memory of writing another crown of sonnets, but surely I’d remember it clearly if I done it, right?

Purgatory, Kentucky (5/7)

I like to have a quiet place to pray,
and sitting, waiting, in my truck, well that’s
about as quiet as it ever gets
because the radio died in ’88.
When a radio dies where does its music go?
They say sound waves never really go away.
I don’t understand what all I know
about that. I guess I believe that sound’s a wave.
I guess I believe there are tiny bones in my ear,
a hammer and an anvil and a horseshoe? Is that right?
I wonder if they’ll be taking questions there.
I wonder if it’s always kind of twilight.
There’s the ferry now—I guess it’s time
I got myself in gear and got in line.

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Ferry on Highway 169 somewhere in Kentucky (a Creative Commons shot from Edlitmus on Flickr)

Tin Whiskers

“Tin whiskers are easy to miss, thinner than a human hair. They look like metal fuzz. They grow — for reasons scientists don’t understand — from plated tin surfaces, millimeter by millimeter. And if they bridge two closely spaced circuits, tin whiskers can cause a short.” Todd C. Frankel, “A Carbondale professor, runaway Toyotas and the hunt for ‘tin whiskers'”

1 (a found poem, from the same article)
“None of this happens if David Gilbert keeps his Ford
F-150 truck. Not the threats to his job
as a professor at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.
Not the corporate intimidation. He never would have
testified before Congress. And he never would have met
those NASA scientists, the ones who ended up
naming an electrical effect after him. As a gift,
they gave him the black NASA coffee mug
sitting on his desk — the one he’s sipping from
right now. The mug reads, ‘If it’s not safe, say so.’”

2
But he traded in his truck for a Toyota.
This is when they were crashing, speeding up,
Toyotas were, getting recalled. He was a curious,
and tenured professor, and had an automotive
lab, so he hooked his truck up to a machine
(it looks like steam punk in my brain, with gears
and cogs and whistles and clocks) and caused an error
the truck’s computer missed, again and again.
Here’s the movie he’s the hero of—
Big bad Toyota tried to trash his name.
My alma mater tried to stop his work.
He just kept telling the truth. It’s almost like
some people have tin whiskers inside of them.
Inside of him, a regard for truth, almost like love.

_____

I like to read the online versions of newspapers from places I’ve lived in the past, or places I’m interested in. Thus, on any given day, I might check out The Missoulian (oh! those years in Montana!) or The Southern Illinoisan (the place names alone are worth it), and though I never lived in St. Louis, I spent a fair bit of time there. The article referenced above was in the St. Louis Post Dispatch online, written by Todd C. Frankel, who now writes for the Washington Post.

It’s a well-written article, a complex and compelling story.

It speaks to so many things, including the enduring value of tenure.

So, bravo, Mr. Frankel, and yay for Professor Gilbert, who really does strike me as a hero.

Purgatory, Kentucky (4/7)

The ferry’s here. I guess I’ll drive on in.
I tell you if I’d known I’d have my truck
on this side of, well, whatever side I’m on,
I’d have done myself in sooner. Just my luck
the ignition switch is still a fussy thing
which I guess means this isn’t heaven.
I never really minded when it wouldn’t start,
just took the time to admire my good old Ford,
Bought it new in ’72, Grabber Blue,
What was there me and my girl couldn’t do?
My favorite thing I ever hauled? An outhouse
that my Mama did NOT want me to take away.
“When your crazy cousin Vernon visits,
I like to have a quiet place to pray.”
_____
Keeping at it, might finish this crown of sonnets during National Poetry Month, just three more to go (but only two more days in April). (The others are in the category “Purgatory,Kentucky” and I’ll put them all together when I write #7). But it’s fun,even if I don’t finish in April, and I’m happy to have written another “car sonnet,” which is one of the big drivers of traffic on my blog, people Googling “car sonnets.” Hope this counts, even though it’s a truck. (NOTE: I no longer write sonnets whilst driving–now when I say “car sonnet” it means a sonnet with vehicular subject matter.)

Here’s a 1972 Ford truck, Grabber Blue. This is pretty much my dream vehicle.

Ferry on Highway 169 somewhere in Kentucky (a Creative Commons shot from Edlitmus on Flickr)

Ferry on Highway 169 somewhere in Kentucky
(a Creative Commons shot from Edlitmus on Flickr)