“Hitch-Hiking” by Gretchen Steele Pratt

Gretchen Steele Pratt


for my sister

I let you do the talking,
knew it was your
blonde hair blanched white with saltwater

They pulled to
the crab-grassed shoulders of Corn Neck Road

You did the talking,
invented places
for them to take us. I saw my face

In the rearview mirrors
a hanging crystal hurt
my eyes. A station wagon

Its mats caked
with horseshit, warm cans of beer
for us to hold between our knees

The matches
that wouldn’t light in the wind
of a backseat. The minivan doors

Slid open babies opened
their eyes fell back to sleep
in the air-conditioned sunlight.

Surfboards knocked me
in the temples
bandanas tied around the boys’ necks.

I don’t remember any music
Just your
Who sings this? your calm elbow

Out the window
and pickup trucks with
full cans of gas to sit on. The doors opened

And there were dreadlocks
dripping held together
with a rubber band and Who sings this? and

An old woman
with buckets of seaweed
crawling with baby crabs or

The voice of a teenage boy
too thin
I live in an abandoned barn

Or a gutted van
white plastic kitchen chairs for
us to sit on and doors dented by deer.

Your calm elbow.
A hatchback in the parking lot of Mosquito Beach
slap of water

Against the hulls
an old sunset your tan shoulders
lift from the driver’s window turn

Give me the okay
to get in
and what could you sound like?

There was a fever of car doors
opening and slamming all over
the island that summer, everything

Out the window blowing by in
the white light
of our going. Who sings this?

fromRattle #28, Winter 2007
2007 Rattle Poetry Prize Honorable Mention


Gretchen Steele Pratt: “When I first started writing poems, I read a letter (in a book) that I believe was from James Wright to Richard Hugo—I can’t be sure because I have never been able to find the letter again. The letter was written while Wright was on vacation and he describes a particularly beautiful night to Hugo. It is implied that the night was too beautiful for Wright to ever write a poem about and so he was giving the details to Hugo in case he could use them. I will always remember how Wright graciously offered up these details to his friend—he said, ‘Here are some fragments of my hammer that broke against a wall of jewels.’ Although I have never been able to locate the letter, this quote has remained at the forefront of my mind and always reminds me why I love writing poems.” (website)

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