January 6, 2014

Julie Price Pinkerton

WHY I OPTED FOR THE MORE EXPENSIVE OIL AT JIFFY LUBE

This one is better for a car as old as yours, he says.
It won’t glob up, he says. And spring is almost here,
so of course you need a thicker oil.

And I say, So with this good oil my car will run better
and it’ll be washed and waxed every time I get in it?

Yes, he says. And you’ll never have to put another drop of gas in it.

And when I start the car, a big bag of money will appear in the back seat?

Yes, he says. And cash will shoot out your exhaust pipe
and people will be glad when they see you coming.

And will I look rested? Like I’ve gotten plenty of sleep every night?

That goes without saying, he says.

And when I roll over in bed and look at the man
who says he loves me, will I finally believe he loves me?

You, he says, won’t be able to believe anything else. Your heart
will soak up the goodness and you will smile and beam and sigh
like a pig in mud.

And what about my parents? I ask. Will this oil keep them from dying?
They’re very old.

Let’s call them and tell them the happy news, he says.

from Rattle #40, Summer 2013

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[download audio]

Julie Price Pinkerton: “The first half of ‘Why I Opted for the More Expensive Oil at Jiffy Lube’ is verbatim the conversation I had with the guy working there. He went along with the silliness. The darker ending of the poem came later, in part because the fear of losing my parents became almost an obsession. It entered everyday things, like oil changes. Not that long after I wrote this poem, I did lose my dad. The anticipation of certain loss has always haunted me. A few years ago, before my father died, my husband Scott and I noticed that our beloved, fragile eighteen-year-old yellow tabby, Hankie, was having trouble bending down far enough to reach his food and water bowls. We set the bowls up on phonebooks to make it easier for him, but that didn’t seem terribly dignified. Scott began working on a secret project: from a long scrap of wood he crafted an old-fashioned ‘lunch counter’ for Hankie. He painted it white and curved it at the ends like the counters in the old Woolworth’s five-and-dimes. It was grander, by far, than the Yellow Pages. The metal legs made it tall enough for Hankie to eat comfortably and we took delight in watching him walk over to the lunch counter and take his usual spot, just like a regular. It helped us, knowing we were giving him the best old age possible. The poetry I like most is like that homemade lunch counter: original, surprising, and carefully crafted, with the driving force behind it some kind of love. Love of words, love for a parent, maybe love for an elderly cat. Hankie lived to be twenty, by the way, and we still have his lunch counter, though the restaurant is now closed.”