Installment 18 is Joel Long’s “Red Rambler,” a poem whose speaker travels the hypnotic road of sense memory. One minute, we’re driving along in the present, tempted to look over bridge rails at water; the next minute, something triggers and we take flight, returning to the sights, smells, and sensations of a past we can hardly know. And yet we do know it intimately.
My brother left the roach clip in the sun visor
in grandma’s car. Though I never use it,
I leave it there beside mirror and compass
sphere, egg which rotated in fluid as I turned,
then settled. Drive west, the line, W
quivers above the dash, west to the river,
other side of town. It is a box of a car,
squared at the edges with a lathe, headlights
perfect circles, twin bowls of silver light.
The car, little room in which I live, floats
above the road, 10th Avenue bridge
at twilight, visor down,—sun pours beneath.
I have to look at tires in front of me
to keep eyes open or risk blindness or sight,
Missouri, cool shock beneath me, birds,
willows, undertow and stones. I want to look
over bridge rails at water—always have.
They tell me I can’t remember, but I do.
Nearly three, the back seat of the car,
Texaco on 9th across from the Masonic.
Grandpa drove, the front seat next to her.
I know now he will die this year, but now
he has stopped the new car, full service.
I don’t see much, back seat door handles,
sky outside the window, blue and stormy,
dark clouds fixed in blue, grandpa set firm
in his body, glass of cold water with mint stalks
stirring light. Outside, I smell gasoline
and oil. The garage is open like a cave
with whole cars lifted inside above ground.
Grandma Mary sits in the passenger seat.
The top layer is skimmed. We move forward
with nothing above us. It takes my breath.
She reaches for his hand as the attendant
fills the gas. I fiddle with the door handle,
knob to the window that I roll down myself,
glass against fur, street air coming, then still,
the moment like a lit diamond in the heart.
It is the pressure of their hands together
that I come back to, something imagined,
that I must imagine, this car I am driving
across the river to the house of my friend
past the Country Club, and the Sun River slow
with mud and birds, unwilling to give itself
to a larger river, the pull, the falls below, give
to the confluence, however bright it is, but giving.
Joel Long’s book Winged Insects won the White Pine Press Poetry Prize. Lessons in Disappearance and Knowing Time by Light were published by Blaine Creek Press in 2010. His chapbooks, Chopin’s Preludes and Saffron Beneath Every Frost were published from Elik Press. He lives in Salt Lake City.