“Ode to the Automobile and Human Happiness” by Alicia Ostriker

Alicia Ostriker


How much human happiness can we stand?
I don’t know but don’t we all like to drive fast?
Exceeding the speed limit is a blast,
the cup runneth over running a light and
getting away with it; happy too is a leisurely drive
with public radio Bach on the first of May
along the tree-lined Hutchinson River Parkway
heading north, sun bright, elated not yet to arrive,
remembering the early cars, the first boyfriend
and his forest green Chevrolet, its new car smell
and his shaving lotion smell, parked on the hill
of glowing kisses that would never end,
remaining unconsumed since that first day
like the bush that beckoned Moses to its burning,
promising happiness, or at least promising
freedom, which is what all cars do, anyway.
So what do I feel, giving my Prius away
dear as it is, to my dear and handsome son
now that I am a city-dweller? One
feeling is loss, the other feeling: Hooray.
He’s manually skilled, he’s in good shape,
he’ll take it camping, climbing with his wife.
I wish them happy highways in this life;
I give away the car. Love’s what I keep.

from Rattle #79, Spring 2023


Alicia Ostriker: “I don’t usually write in traditional forms, but this poem somehow asked to be in quatrains. I also don’t usually write about happiness (who does?), so it made me happy that I could do that, and gather past, present, and future happinesses into a single poem, like a little distillation of joy. As Robert Frost says: ‘For once, then, something.’”

Rattle Logo