“Changing License Plates” by Ceridwen Hall

Ceridwen Hall


You have put off this task for weeks—for lack
of time, for lack of tools—but now you kneel

behind the car you’ve driven for twelve years,
since high school. You aren’t sure anymore

exactly what your life is supposed to resemble. 
But it’s probably illegal to continue driving

with out-of-state plates attached and in-state
plates wrapped in plastic on the front seat

and today might be the last warm afternoon 
in October. So you’ve borrowed a wrench

and screwdriver from your landlord’s shed
and, one by one, you loosen the old screws,

then lay them in a row across the bumper. 
You don’t use tools often, but your hands

seem to remember what to do. You pull
the old plate free and study it: a number

you never bothered to memorize, a stack
of renewal decals with your mother’s date

of birth. You still don’t think of this car
as belonging to you. What does it mean

anyway to own a vehicle, to maintain it?
Your fingers appear strange and liable

as they lower this plate to the ground, fit
the new one in place. You decide to store 

the old plate in the trunk like a corpse
or some kind of charm. Then you walk 

to the front plate, where the bolt proves 
difficult. Loose hair falls across your face, 

but your hands are grimy, so you ignore it. 
You secure the plate, consider the slogan: 

Land of Lincoln, which seems level enough 
for your purposes—for whoever it is you are 

impersonating or becoming. The dog watches 
from the window as you test the plates to see

if they wiggle. Not much. A car isn’t an animal,
you remind yourself. So it doesn’t feel alone

when you click the lock and leave.

from Rattle #56, Summer 2017


Ceridwen Hall: “Sometimes I write to put experiences into words. Sometimes to put words into experiences. I am not altogether clear on the difference. Sometimes I write to put off necessary tasks and sometimes because I have finished necessary tasks. Sometimes necessary tasks become poems.”

Rattle Logo