Barely thirteen, half-in and half-out, I pushed
my mother’s Toyota Corolla
beyond the hill’s
grip. Odometer unplugged. Speed dial
a broken reed. Nashville.
Spring, winter, fall,
summer. The hour late. The air mostly still.
Sometimes damp or cold.
How many nights did our neighbors of the halfway
house gather to watch me pick up speed
downslope until, just out of earshot, I’d pop
the clutch and ignite the night with a single spark?
I cruised downtown, humming
the sounds tumbling from the Dixie-swing
dance floors. Others, I took a left
turn off Broad
and drove west along the shipyards of the Cumberland
where Peterbilts and turbochargers idled
for their payloads of coal still smoldering
with the pressure of creation on the barges
that bobbed on the waterfront.
I rose high above the city where the reservoir
mirrored the sky in its ashen sheen. Sometimes
I wandered deep into the numerous districts
of brick house tenements where the poor
pooled on street corners,
silver crosses hung
around their necks, their red-and-white
swooped sneakers flashing beneath streetlamps.
But it was the US 70 that jarred me from sleep,
the vague path of its vapor trail that shot me past
line and into farmlands stacked
between cold trout streams and hay bale lanes.
There, I tested speed, gear-to-gear
I learned I could drive beneath the boughs heavy
with blossoms or with their bareness.
And it was
a right turn, a thin trail, the churn of packed gravel
and drainpipes I passed over that took me to
of a soybean field— the horizon a blue and milky
curve like the white backbone of a bluebird’s
feather; Cassiopeia lurching beyond the swerve of bats
on the hunt; the white points of gnats
I could feel myself drift open.
I saw the gossamer spines of a dandelion head,
then the wheat of my own brown
of exhaust from my mother’s car; green curlicues
of the pubescent field. A bend
in the Cumberland
and the patchy skew-work of farmland. HVACs
on the roofs of skyscrapers. Then a
cold metal pressed through me, and the earth
dropped from its fallopian tube, hanging in space
like a spider’s egg before a window of night.
I never left that place. I never returned to that place.
And every night, I told myself, would be the last.
But the night beckons and there’s nothing
like the luster of first light, often copper or peach;
one time: scalp white. Later, old enough, I’d
friends how to peel out: left foot pressed hard
to the clutch, right hovering— that trick I learned
on my last night drive, three blocks from home,
sixteen a weekend away. Revving my engine
a Taurus into a race, and when the light
turned green, fishtailed twenty-five feet
of rubber and oil down Charlotte
When I looked in the rearview, I saw the wisp
of ghosts, the peel of their pursuit deafening.
And when I looked where I was going
there gleamed the dual red eyes of my demons
so far ahead I thought
I’d never catch up.