Monthly Archives: September 2012

September 24, 2012 Truck Driving Poem: Go-Carts Go Go Go

Gentle readers:

Dave Newman is a Pittsburgh poet and fiction writer I discovered one morning while reading the Post-Gazette. He’d written an article that explained why, though being pro gay marriage himself, he would continue to patronize Chik-fil-A. It wasn’t terribly convincing, but it was interesting.
The poem below, on the other hand, is pretty convincing. It succeeds. A poem is sort of a negotiation between the writer and the reader, and, as with love, not all pairings are going to be ideal. In me I believe this poem has found a good audience. As some of you know, I spend a good amount of time on the PA turnpike these days. A good amount of bad time. I hate the trucks Newman is writing about here, hell I probably hate the speaker of this poem–although with all the pills maybe he’s going fast enough to escape my wrath. I love the lines “I was eleven or twelve, too old to pretend,/ but sound and motion make dreams and dreams/ thrive on speed.” Know what else sound and motion make? Poems. This poem has a lot of drive to it, methinks. Think about the choices he’s made to effect the momentum. No stanza breaks, for example. There are thematic shifts in the poem, but he bundles them together wonderfully, dragging you along in his wake. Think about the vocabulary (what critics call “diction”), too: Not a fancy word in sight. Only 7 words have more than 2 syllables (I’m not counting the state-name proper nouns); nothing to make you hit the brakes.
It’s so easy to think about your family, or your childhood, when you’re driving. As some of you also know, I had a pretty happy childhood. I wrote a poem about it once. It was crap. I think maybe I might not have been old enough to see it right (I was in college). I think I also might not be a very good poet. It was hazy, and removed, and still. Dave Newman is on your tail here, headlights blazing, hammer down, accelerating right up to that final word. -ed.
The Pennsylvania Turn Pike, and I’m wired.
It’s the coffee. It’s the sugar. It’s the pills.
Growing up, it was go-carts on a tar-covered track.
I was eleven or twelve, too old to pretend,
but sound and motion make dreams and dreams
thrive on speed. It didn’t matter that my dad
was in the next lane, driving like crazy, his knees
around the steering wheel, laughing, embarrassing
us all but not really, not then, not when he’d been
gone—West Virginia, Reading, York, wherever
he drove our green Cutlass, the one without air,
to jobs he took to pay for kids he never got to see.
My brother took a turn and came up hard on his bumper.
My mom was in her black leather jacket, on the edge
of the track, screaming for all of us to slow down.
We were often not a family, so I like to remember
when we were. All that wind and the roar of tiny
engines. You could scream and not hear your own joy.
But I did it anyway, screamed that my dad was home,
that my mother was not at church, was not weeping
that my brother was naked again with his girlfriend,
that my brother was with us, safe behind the wheel.
I hit the oil slick and screamed, screamed when the man
raised the checkered flag to pull off, screamed when I
stayed on, when my dad stayed on, when my brother
stayed on, when my mother smiled at our collective
defiance, and how I skidded into the pit, and the man
said, “That’s it,” and my dad offered him extra money,
but he wanted us all gone, and how I want that now,
a man with a checkered flag, someone to wave me in,
someone to pay for the extra lap, someone to take me
home and love me and someone else to tell me about women,
though I’m fine out here, all alone but dreaming, still wrapped
up in motion. I’m steering gracefully while the other trucks
swerve into the nighttime, crossing yellow lines, and honking
their horns like alarm clocks, but I’m awake already.
It’s the sugar. It’s the coffee. It’s the drugs.
It’s my father, my mother, my brother in a dream.
I’m so hopped up on pills, I’m sharp as a tack,
sharp as a nail, the one that’s about to puncture
my right front tire, and blow it all to smithereens.
-2102 [sic]

September 17, 2012 Umbrage

“Erudite but never obscure,” reads a blurb on the dustcover of Ben Downing’s debut collection, released some 9 years ago. The linguistic play in the selection below lives up to that praise, and seems likely to please some MV readers–particularly those who enjoyed Dan Groves’s dissection of “goodbye” a few weeks ago. Downing goes to the dictionary of etymology for inspiration on this one. It could be an epic, but he’s distilled the concept and its moral import down to 5 couplets–rhyming ones, no less!. -ed.

Taken, given:
friendships riven.

From shadow or shade,
it instantly puts paid
to hard-won clarities
and causes us to freeze
up with unearned righteousness;
it makes us less.
How much better to combat it.
We should take umbrage at it.

September 10, 2012 Games

Dear readers,

I swear we ran this poem before, but looking back I can’t seem to find it. Perhaps I read it and then forgot to include it earlier in the year. Jack Gilbert’s collected poems was recently reviewed in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette–with much pride, since Mr. Gilbert is a native Pittsburgher. An earlier (March) review in the New York Times said that “Reading Mr. Gilbert’s finest poems is like shaving with a razor that just nicks your skin. There’s a slight imperfection in the blade. There’s a bit of blood.” He was born in 1925 and has lived his life outside of the spotlight, even though his first book made a splash. He vagabonded around Europe, and has taught sporadically, also lived in San Francisco during the beat era, without adopting their aesthetics or social stance. He has also toured foreign countries as a poetry lecturer for the Department of State–how do I get that gig?!

Enjoy this pithy observation from one of our undersung lions. -ed.


Imagine if suffering were real.
Imagine if those old people were afraid of death.
What if the midget or the girl with one arm
really felt pain? Imagine how impossible it would be
to live if some people were
alone and afraid all their lives.