In the Black Camaro

By David Bottoms b. 1949 David Bottoms
Through the orange glow of taillights,   
I crossed the dirt road, entered
the half-mile of darkness and owl screech,   
tangled briar and fallen trunk, followed
the yellow beam of Billy Parker's flashlight   
down the slick needle-hill,
half crawling, half sliding and kicking   
for footholds, tearing up whole handfuls   
of scrub brush and leaf mold
until I jumped the mud bank, walked   
the ankle-deep creek,
the last patch of pine, the gully,   
and knelt at the highway stretching   
in front of Billy Parker's house,
spotted the black Chevy Camaro parked   
under a maple not fifty feet
from the window where Billy Parker rocked   
in and out of view,
studying in the bad light of a table lamp   
the fine print of his Allstate policy.   
I cut the flashlight, checked up   
and down the highway. Behind me   
the screech growing distant, fading   
into woods, but coming on
a network of tree frogs signaling
along the creek. Only that, and the quiet   
of my heels coming down on asphalt   
as I crossed the two-lane and stood
at the weedy edge of Billy Parker's yard,   
stood in the lamp glare of the living room   
where plans were being made to make me rich   
and thought of a boat and Johnson outboard,   
of all the lures on a K-Mart wall,   
of reels and graphite rods, coolers
of beer, weedy banks of dark fishy rivers,   
and of Billy Parker rocking in his chair,   
studying his coverage, his bank account,   
his layoff at Lockheed, his wife laboring   
in the maternity ward
of the Cobb General Hospital. For all   
of this, I crouched in the shadow
of fender and maple, popped the door   
on the Camaro, and found
in the faint house-light drifting
through the passenger's window
the stripped wires hanging below the dash.   
I took the driver's seat, kicked
the clutch, then eased again
as I remembered the glove box
and the pint of Seagram's Billy Parker   
had not broken the seal on. Like an alarm   
the tree frogs went off in the woods.   
I drank until they hushed
and I could hear through cricket chatter   
the rockers on Billy Parker's chair   
grinding ridges into his living room floor,   
worry working on him like hard time.   
Then a wind working in river grass,   
a red current slicing
around stumps and river snags, a boat-drift   
pulling against an anchor
as I swayed in the seat of the black Camaro,   
grappled for the wires
hanging in darkness between my knees,   
saw through the tinted windshield   
by a sudden white moon
rolling out of the clouds, a riverbank
two counties away, a place to jump and roll   
on the soft shoulder of the gravel road,   
a truck in a thicket a half-mile downstream.

David Bottoms, “In the Black Camaro” from Armored Hearts: Selected and New Poems. Copyright © 1995 by David Bottoms. Reprinted with the permission of Copper Canyon Press, P. O. Box 271, Port Townsend, WA 98368-0271,

Source: Poetry (June 1982).


This poem originally appeared in the June 1982 issue of Poetry magazine

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June 1982
 David  Bottoms


David Bottoms was born in Canton, Georgia in 1949. He earned an MA from the University of West Georgia and a PhD from Florida State University. In 1979, Bottoms won the prestigious Walt Whitman Award from the Academy of American Poets for his collection Shooting Rats at the Bibb County Dump. Robert Penn Warren, the contest’s judge, described Bottoms as “a strong poet, and much of his strength emerges from the fact that he is . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Social Commentaries, Life Choices

POET’S REGION U.S., Southern

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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