Stripped Car

There’s something in me that likes
to imagine the things I’m afraid of,

for example, the future.
I don’t mean the celestial fireworks

from melting reactors, or New York
under six feet of sea water,
but the future in its most intimate,

most probable forms—vignettes
subversive enough to slip through the radar.

That’s how I come to be crouched
behind a stripped car wondering

would it be too dangerous
to piss in the street?
It would, I’m a woman.

So I go on holding it,
distracting myself by trying to remember
every fruit I’ve ever eaten,

their exact textures and flavors.
So far the most exotic is the custard apple.

I use up a whole hour of daylight
and then another—apricot, blueberry, plum—

calves cramping from having to stay low,
waiting behind a car pitted

with the acne of automatic fire.

There are still too many guns
walking around out there,
and no one I know,

so I’m waiting for twilight at least.
Is everyone alone now?

The wind says so. It says
a winter is coming without oil.

It bites to get my attention
and scatters a few leaflets,
pictures of a blackened car,

a city that seems to catch on fire
every sunset, though there’s
little enough to burn. Stone only chars.

This isn’t a likeness of the future, is it?
Every person in the street a stranger?

Will a word like ‘neighbor’ survive this?

I fired a gun once. It smelled rancid, sour,
like bad food. It hurt my shoulder

and left a wound of oil on my shirt.

My mind is thinking of sleep again.
Sleep lets things escape—my pocket-knife

vanished through a knife-sized hole.

There’s nothing to cut,
no guava, nectarine, winter pear,

and nothing left of the car at all,
not even the rear-view mirror
I was counting on,

hoping my face could tell me
it was safe to go home, and where is that?

A place with a bed
and a desk where I sit and plot
next year’s garden on graph paper.

The skin of a tangelo is faintly pebbly,
easy to peel, but the sweetest citrus

is the satsuma, then the clementine.
If I had to choose between natural
disaster and a firing squad,

I’d take the river of lava any day.

Hurricane, tidal wave, tornado, drought.
I want the earth, which is waiting
under the sidewalk, to be the one.

Not any of these human shadows
sporting their silhouetted guns.
There were gun shadows before,

but the two worlds overlapped,
guns and the amber waves of grain.

It’s hard to say whether bramble fruits
actually have skins. Does a raspberry?
Does each tiny globe have its own?

How will I live without the earth?

In a stripped car, unable to piss
when I want to, all the time cold?

Maybe weapons interbred with humans,
and a strain of hybrids was born,
half metal, half flesh.

I know there’s an enemy—
look at all the damage it’s doing.
Maybe it’s still a baby,

its weak neck wobbling as its carriage
lurches over the broken pavement.

But probably by now
it’s a sulking adolescent
starting to look like serious trouble,

with a silky little shadow-moustache
and a gun. Who’ll kill it? Will I?

What if it doesn’t look like the enemy?
What if it comes disguised as a savior,
or resembles nothing so much as hunger,

so that everyone has his own
private piece to kill? Will we do it?

“Stripped Car” by Chase Twichell from The Ghost of Eden: Poems, published by Ontario Review Press. © 1995 by Chase Twichell. Used by permission of Chase Twichell.
Source: The Ghost of Eden (Ontario Review Press, 1995)
More Poems by Chase Twichell