Installment 17 is a white-knuckle meditation on luck and its aftermath. Leah Mueller’s two poems dramatize the strikes we never see coming, and invite us to feel those misses that were nonetheless very near.
METEORITE FROM SATURN
The objects that strike from
above are always the worst.
Driving my Toyota Corolla down I-5 in a
9 PM Pacific Northwest rainstorm,
a few miles north of Everett.
Raining so hard I can barely see.
Traffic like angry bees
escaping from a damaged nest.
Radio off so I can concentrate.
Suddenly, the heavy crash of impact
so loud the entire car shakes.
At first I think a massive rock has
fallen on the roof, then I
can’t think at all. The lights flicker,
or maybe it’s just the inner light
that flickers, like it almost decided
to go out, and then changed its mind
and said no, I will stay. A projectile
has fallen directly from the sky,
shattering the windshield. Ripples spread
across the surface, circling from the
point of impact. Rain cascades against
the cracks, swirls in thick oceanic patterns.
The glass remains stubbornly upright, as
wipers continue their steady rhythm.
I can’t tell if the surface is cracked
or whether it’s just rain. The water is
viscous soup on the windshield,
my wipers are no match.
That object came from the sky. No
nearby overpasses, no looming semis.
If I’d followed my instincts
and gone to the rest area, I would
have avoided the incident. Instead,
a cosmic bullseye on the driver’s side
of my car. The goddamned thing
was aiming straight for my face.
I keep driving. The rain stops in downtown Seattle,
and water evaporates from the glass.
Harsh overhead lights shine on the
spider web of cracks. I keep driving.
Construction detour in Tacoma, I must go
three miles out of my way, then
turn around and head the opposite
direction on the interstate. I keep driving.
I pull up in front of my house, emerge from the car,
run my fingers over the cracks, note
the impact point with its two perfect,
concentric rings. The missile was determined
to drill a hole and collapse the windshield,
but the glass and I resisted. I was one
with the glass. We resisted together
and I escaped with what remains
of my life. The windshield is less fortunate,
and will need to be replaced in the morning.
Not as hard as beating cancer,
like my best friend did three years ago,
but still a fuck you to death. I never saw it coming,
wonder whether a meteorite or an airplane bolt
wanted me gone. This seems a fitting end
to an especially difficult winter,
except it is only February. A man
drives over and replaces the windshield,
tells me not to wash the vehicle for at
least two days. I assure him I don’t
care if the car is clean, and pay him
two hundred dollars plus tax.
It seems like a good deal to me.
My mother’s pickup truck ran forever
on fifty cents worth of gas,
and it never failed to start
at the first turn of the key in the ignition.
She was always home
cooking and changing diapers,
so the vehicle was mine
in the afternoons when school ended.
Sometimes she let me
drive to school in the morning
and I parked in the gravel lot
next to the Camaros and Fairlanes
that overflowed with hormones
and stolen menthol cigarettes.
The other kids laughed at my truck,
asked if I was hauling shit.
I always said yes.
After school ended,
I roared up Highway 36,
gunned the engine
and pretended I was moving
somewhere else, or at least
visiting an Amish cheese shop
or watching a movie in another town.
Chicago and Champaign-Urbana
were both North, and equally exotic.
I went a dozen miles
on the flat, sticky blacktop road,
then turned around in a parking lot
and drove back to town
with exaggerated caution,
savoring the boredom.
One afternoon during midterms
my mother loaned me the truck,
warning me to be careful.
I took it for a highway spin before my test,
accompanied by a younger friend
who didn’t have her license.
As I switched lanes, my passenger said
‘You pulled out in front of a semi”
in a strangely calm tone of voice.
My mother’s truck elevated slightly,
like a massive shovel had scooped it up
and was preparing to drop the vehicle
in another, better location.
The interior of the cab trembled
while my friend stared at me,
her mouth a perfect cartoon “o”
like a woman from a horror movie.
The windows barely rattled
as the truck maneuvered sideways
and I clutched the locked wheel
in my sweaty, useless hands.
The pickup finally stopped
its relentless sideways motion
and I clambered from the cab
onto the pavement,
saw the semi for the first time.
The enormous truck rested on the highway
with its nose completely buried
in the passenger side door
of my mother’s vehicle.
My friend pointed at the wreckage
and laughed hysterically, while
the semi driver, a black man in overalls
stood next to his truck, shaking.
“Are you all right?” he asked.
My mother ran the three blocks
from our house to the ruined pickup,
screaming and waving her fists,
while my classmates watched
from the window-side tables
of the fast food restaurant
on the other side of the highway.
They stood beside
their perfect, undamaged cars,
and loudly cheered my failure.
My mother’s truck engine fired up
with the first turn of the ignition key
and she drove her vehicle home,
vowing to never let me touch it again.
“That semi was carrying seventy-two
thousand pounds of coal,” she said later.
“You were goddamned lucky.”
I felt if I had really been lucky
the semi wouldn’t have hit me at all,
but I agreed, because I wanted her
to think I’d absorbed my lesson
so she would hand over the keys again.
A week later, my mother stunned me
by telling me the truck was mine,
but she refused to fix the door
because she wanted me to remember
to never change lanes
without checking the blind spot first.
I flunked my midterm exam,
and had a permanently concave door
on the passenger side of my vehicle,
but at least I’d learned how to drive,
and I finally had my own set of wheels.
Leah Mueller is an indie writer from Tacoma, Washington. She is the author of two chapbooks, “Queen of Dorksville” (Crisis Chronicles Press) and “Political Apnea” (Locofo Chaps) and three books, “Allergic to Everything”, (Writing Knights Press) “Beach Dweller Manifesto” (Writing Knights) and “The Underside of the Snake” (Red Ferret Press). Her work appears in Blunderbuss, Summerset Review, Outlook Springs, Crack the Spine, Atticus Review, Your Impossible Voice, and other publications. She was a featured poet at the 2015 New York Poetry Festival, and a runner-up in the 2012 Wergle Flomp humor poetry contest.