A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature
Because I was twenty
and in a hurry for the next stage to begin
I’d driven all night to see
the ocean. I was in love
with the young man at the wheel,
the way his chestnut chest hairs swirled
like an animal had bedded there.
I loved the arch of his slender
feet, his fingers with the half-moons under
the nail beds. I slept through
the Appalachians, unbent my legs
in Georgia and woke to a weak Florida sun
filtered through haze, a monochrome
dawn, a turnpike empty and white
as sky. I thought it clever
when he said clear was a color:
the color of everything
that couldn’t be seen.
I imagine that nutria were bobbing
in their brackish dens as
we powered past
roadside weeds sparkling with dew,
taking turns at the wheel in the car he’d dubbed gray shark. Hungry and wide, it plied
the fog while schools of palms
and palmettos fanned in its wake.
It was the era when we all hummed
the dum dum . . . dum dum . . . from Jaws,
the soundtrack of our fear
and, O, how we cracked ourselves up.
How blind could that bimbo have been
to go for a swim in the dark?
No one knew that brutality
was closer than it appeared. I turned to the rearview
with sleep-crusted eyes to smooth my hair
in time to see a car far, far behind us
glide off the shoulder and into the mist of – what
– a swamp? A tree? That’s the thing.
There wasn’t a swerve.
It was elegant, balletic, a cinematic dissolve
that seemed to sparkle or shatter
when I blinked.
When I found my voice it sounded
more like question than imperative—
and the longer it took
to find words the farther away the car,
or idea of car, or trick of light.
What proof did I need? And why?
Many years later I’d try to explain
how it was, how a car can look
like a clumsy pelican
with feathers fluttering like shrapnel.
How the congress of reeds saw all.
How the distance between me and the lover,
a man and a thicket of mangrove,
would someday grow
into something as colorless,
as unforgiving, as concrete.
Copyright 2016 Jane Adair (formerly Jane Wampler)