Friday, May 17, 2013

Car Of My Sleepless Nights

—Photo by Richard Hansen, Sacramento

—Raymond Carver

On my desk, a picture postcard from my son
in southern France. The Midi,
he calls it. Blue skies. Beautiful houses
loaded with begonias. Nevertheless 
he's going under, needs money fast.

Next to his card, a letter 
from my daughter telling me her old man,
the speed-freak, is tearing down
a motorcycle in the living room.
They're existing on oatmeal,
she and her children. For God's sake,
she could use some help.

And there's the letter from my mother
who is sick and losing her mind.
She tells me she won't be here
much longer. Won't I help her make
this one last move? Can't I pay 
for her to have a home of her own?

I go outside. Thinking to walk
to the graveyard for some comfort.
But the sky is in turmoil.
The clouds, huge and swollen with darkness,
about to spew open.

It's then the postman turns into
the drive. His face
is a reptile's, glistening and working. 
His hand goes back—as if to strike!
It's the mail.


—Raymond Carver

Then I was young and had the strength of ten.
For anything, I thought. Though part of my job
at night was to clean the autopsy room
once the coroner's work was done. But now
and then they knocked off early, or too late.
For, so help me, they left things out
on their specially built table. A little baby,
still as a stone and snow cold. Another time,
a huge black man with white hair whose chest
had been laid open. All his vital organs
lay in a pan beside his head. The hose
was running, the overhead lights blazed.
And one time there was a leg, a woman's leg,
on the table. A pale and shapely leg.
I knew it for what it was. I'd seen them before.
Still, it took my breath away.

When I went home at night my wife would say,
"Sugar, it's going to be all right. We'll trade
this life in for another." But it wasn't
that easy. She'd take my hand between her hands
and hold it tight, while I leaned back on the sofa
and closed my eyes. Thinking of . . . something.
I don't know what. But I'd let her bring
my hand to her breast. At which point
I'd open my eyes and stare at the ceiling, or else
the floor. Then my fingers strayed to her leg.
Which was warm and shapely, ready to tremble
and raise slightly, at the slightest touch.
But my mind was unclear and shaky. Nothing
was happening. Everything was happening. Life
was a stone, grinding and sharpening.


—Raymond Carver

Everywhere he went that day we walked
in his own past. Kicked through piles
of memories. Looked through windows
that no longer belonged to him.
Work and poverty and short change.
In those days they'd lived by their wills,
determined to be invincible.
Nothing could stop them. Not
for the longest while.

                                    In the motel rooms
that night, in the early morning hours,
he opened a curtain. Saw clouds
banked against the moon. He leaned
closer to the glass. Cold air passed
through and put its hand over his heart.
I loved you, he thought.
Loved you well.
Before loving you no longer.


—Raymond Carver

The car with a cracked windshield.
The car that threw a rod.
The car without brakes.
The car with a faulty U-joint.
The car with a hole in its radiator.
The car I picked peaches for.
The car with a cracked block.
The car with no reverse gear.
The car I traded for a bicycle.
The car with steering problems.
The car with generator trouble.
The car with no back seat.
The car with the torn front seat.
The car that burned oil.
The car with rotten hoses.
The car that left the restaurant without paying.
The car with bald tires.
The car with no heater or defroster.
The car with its front end out of alignment.
The car the child threw up in.
The car I threw up in.
The car with the broken water pump.
The car whose timing gear was shot.
The car with a blown head-gasket.
The car I left on the side of the road.
The car that leaked carbon monoxide.
The car with a sticky carburetor.
The car that hit the dog and kept going.
The car with a hole in its muffler.
The car with no muffler.
The car my daughter wrecked.
The car with the twice-rebuilt engine.
The car with corroded battery cables.
The car bought with a bad check.
Car of my sleepless nights.
The car with a stuck thermostat.
The car whose engine caught fire.
The car with no headlights.
The car with a broken fan belt.
The car with wipers that wouldn't work.
The car I gave away.
The car with transmission trouble.
The car I washed my hands of.
The car I struck with a hammer.
The car with payments that couldn't be met.
The repossessed car.
The car whose clutch-pin broke.
The car waiting on the back lot.
Car of my dreams.
My car.


Today's LittleNip:

—Raymond Carver

She lays her hand on his shoulder
at the checkout stand. But he won't 
go with her, and shakes his head.

She insists! He pays. She walks out
with him to his big car, takes one look,
laughs at it. Touches his cheek.

Leaves him with his groceries
in the parking lot. Feeling foolish.
Feeling diminished. Still paying.



 —Photo by Richard Hansen