In Cars

I was listening to NPR this morning and because it’s poetry month they had a section on poetry for awkward adolescents — and who hasn’t been one of them? Jesus, I’m still awkward.

There’s a poem in the collection by Stephen Dunn called “The Sacred” that’s terrific.

I want to exist like that young poet in the poem who sits in a car before he can drive; just sits there with the radio turned on, understanding “the bright altar of the dashboard,” alive to the idea of motion even though he is sitting still.

There’s something primal about that need for a space of one’s own or the chance to fly free from a situation or circumstances or just to be oneself.

This line glimmers, like a penny in a pool. “The key/ in having a key/ and putting it in, and going.”

And I can feel myself putting a key in the ignition for the very first time, that exhilaration, that trepidation, that animal instinct to begin. And I remember the very first time I unlocked the back door of my house and wandered off on my own to some wet and muddy field in Wales to hear the crows and see the sheep stream along the nibbled grass like an army of fleeing responsibility.

What has happened to that sacredness that Dunn explores in his poem?

Now I get into my car and it’s a burden to start up the engine and drive into work. The magic sound of the engine coming alive is like a cruel laugh. The motion of the car mechanical and humdrum. The emptying gas tank little more than an annoyance. The blinking signal a mind-numbing distraction like the miserable news on the radio. And even the radio pumps out crude oil and no amount of fishing for a channel to listen to can bring you satisfaction.

Where is that poetical car? Where is that car that can take me anywhere?

I think all I have to do is put my foot to the pedal of my heart and I’ll find it.


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