You had to baby it. It had been through a lot … many lots.
Yet when you stepped on the gas, it only lurched,
threatened to stall, you stepped harder, it lurched again,
until the heck with babying it, you’re stomping
on the pedal, cursing, the car jerking us down the street,
RPM needle bouncing wildly, while the slightest dips
in the road caused busted shocks to boing,
as if riding on industrial-size pogo-sticks.
Sporty wouldn’t have been the word to describe that car;
nor would dependable, fuel efficient, economic, or sleek.
It was certainly no engine-revving muscle machine;
unless you count having to rev the engine to keep it
from stalling-out at stoplights, or the muscle exerted
manhandling the no-power steering, which we are not counting.
And forget horsepower, the giddy-up was violent,
like being jerked around by a bevy of three-legged donkeys.
The Beach Boys would have never written a song
about your car, that much can be said.
A blasphemy to the history of motor vehicles
your car made Stephen King’s Christine seem as prissy
as a pink, Mary Kay caddy in a Barbie parade.
And when you first pulled up in that 1986 Chrysler 500
in the summer of ‘98, it was apparent that, back at the car lot,
you’d had a serious Griswold-moment.
It was an ugly, dark brown box of rust on white-walled tires;
sofa-seats bleeding orange foam through ripped upholstery;
with an extra long front, stubby rear, and four square head lamps
that resembled toy flashlights made by Fisher Price.
Beater would be the word; lemon; rattletrap.
It was the kind of car you pray gets stolen,
but never would; not even with the keys left in the ignition,
a full tank of gas, and a sign that said—TAKE ME.
So I was surprised at your reaction, when I had recently joked
about that car, and you failed to find the humor in it.
Fifteen years was no anesthetic for the pain my playful jest
had unintentionally renewed. But it wasn’t so much for the car
that hurt, as it was for the situation: you were thirty-eight, newly divorced
with three young mouths to feed on a cashier at Lowes income.
Carless for a spell, that bum-squabbled hunk of corroded steel
was your freedom, your escape-vehicle away from that monster
whom I unaffectedly refer to as “dad.” After being imprisoned
by that insidious control-freak who’d never let you live,
you’d stolen one last glance in the rearview, before eighteen hard years
of marital hell vanished to a dot on the point of a new perspective.
The car itself was an eyesore not the slickest of paint jobs
could’ve saved. So what? It was there for you; all you could afford.
In the end, it was dad who’d driven us all away.
But it was you, mom, who stayed strong, and that beat-down
Chrysler 500 that drove the rest of us together.
First Place, Adult Category
Antioch Writers’ Workshop Poetry Contest
T.J. McGuire lives in Dayton, Ohio, with his wife and two daughters.