CHANGING THE LICENSE PLATES
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.”