“Car Accident” by Ken Meisel

Ken Meisel

          9th Street, St. Petersburg, Florida

The same month that woman
went into outer space,
and I mean Judith Resnik, who died
in the Challenger a few years
later, underneath the watching eyes
of God or NASA,
another woman I didn’t really know, either,
a common woman,
crashed herself into a telephone pole
in North St. Petersburg,
because she was drunk and speeding.
And she’d had one too many at the bar.
And maybe because whatever it is
that electrifies self destructiveness
in the brain, spit-fired disaster in her, too.
And so she wanted to get it all out,
and smash it on for size
against something bigger…
Her family must’ve wondered why.
Perhaps she wanted to escape
from the night, with the coolness of closed up
shopping malls and the lonesome
ramshackle beach bum motels,
and the shadows ghosting the windows.
Maybe she hated the smoky, paneled bars,
spotted alongside the beach roads
with their endless games of darts
played by blue collar dead beats
and their sad wooden tables
littered with ashtrays and old french fries,
and their juke boxes
playing songs of heartache
for the lonesome, clinging drunks
dancing against tomorrow.
Maybe it was for the smell of smoked fish,
clinging like invisible fingers to her jeans
that made her wish
for the salt of a man to grab her
in her bed at night and comfort her,
and take away all her burdens.
And maybe, also, for the men
who’d wronged her, or had stolen love
from her.
Perhaps she drove against the small
banalities of her thoughts,
or against the ledger of her failures
that kept knocking her back
into her final insignificance,
and into the stubborn palm trees
planted to beautify a sad, aging
fisherman’s city
stuck on the Gulf of Mexico
that, because it was sad,
kept on shining
under the sun anyway.
Whatever it is that made that woman
get angry, or lonesome,
or whatever it is that made
that other woman want to fly
up into the Universe, past the earth,
I can’t really say…
But I do know that jewelry,
and men’s love, and a baby
weren’t reason enough to keep either
of them here…
We’re all astronauts.
The heart owns its terrible burdens.
The heart breaks the strings
of pearls that are its ambitions.
You could hear the crash,
and then the silence.
And then there was the eye-popping
shock that followed,
the loud snap like a door,
where the brain tells the legs to run.
Whatever else happened then,
whether it was commotion,
or the survival of her drunken soul
climbing out of the wreckage
like a torn piece of jellyfish
soaring way up high to the surface
and trying to figure out
if it had turned into a ghost
or an angel,
or some angry, electric sparkling
of her brain’s gray matter
swimming up out of bone
and into the blanched humid night,
I can’t really say.
All I remember is that the radiator
blew up.
And then there was that hissing
that tells you the smashed car,
because it’s enraged,
is about to explode.
Sometimes, because we see it,
this light, this moon,
shining above us like something
avenging something else,
like some engorged bird,
seeking shelter in a tree,
we fill in the gaps,
the hand-fills of nothingness
with whatever else there is.
I guess it’s the way we tell ourselves
what to see and what not to see.
And what to remember or to forget.
For me, I was watching
Johnny Carson with my father.
And my sister had given birth to a boy.
We’d just talked to her.
She was nursing him.
And putting him into his little bed.
And, outside, where the moon
slid behind a gravy train of clouds
and the pin sized crickets
had started up their chirruping
like a black church choir
singing at a funeral in the weedy canal
behind the apartment building,
I called an EMS
even though I knew she’d be
a goner—
because I couldn’t think of anything
better to do,
and because it was better than nothing.
I was just trying to fill in the space
with something other than shrieking—
which was all that was left,
to do.

from Rattle #26, Winter 2006
Rattle Poetry Prize Honorable Mention

Rattle Logo