|Apr/May 2003 • Poetry • Special Feature|
Behind the garage, chrome crumples from the sun's stiff beating,
bunches in on itself until it looks like a giant mouth lost all
its fillings there, where the bumpers and grilles had once been.
Those cars back there are all partscars. My favorite one
is the grey goose, a Starliner that got it when a tree dropped a branch,
heavy as a thigh, through the Ford's windshield.
That happened back when we never had the money,
when Dad was a clerk at Whitlock Auto Parts in Racine.
When Mom would take me shopping to Zaires for schooldress
fabric, or bathtub bleach, or mousetraps, we'd stop over by Dad
and I'd wander the air freshener aisle, fingering the trees
until my hands smelled like fruit cocktail.
My dad had a nametag-KENNETH-even though Mom and most
others have always called him Kenny or Junior. After he quit
because they were telling him what to do, he never got another job.
He began to work on cars at home and since then has smelled like bondo
and paint thinner, and now people can call him whatever they want.
The partscars slowly sag, their rusted bellies settling
into the grass. Meanwhile, mice take over under their hoods,
moss furs over the benchseats, our pets climb or jump
through open windows and sleep inside. I can tell when our girldog,
Molly, has been curled inside one--her nose and eyelashes
are glittered with whatever the dust of a dying car is called.
The partscars have all shed their paintjobs. Even though Dad paints
hundreds of cars, always puts the clearcoat on tight,
I know they'll all fail, once they give in to the Wisconsin wintersalt.
Once, at the junkyard, Dad found a car he'd painted. I was waiting
in the truck, Molly panting behind me, and through the windshield
I watched Dad's face go like a sodacan under a bootheel.
Mom wishes Dad would wear his facemask when he's painting.
She laughs sometimes, Your father must have garagedust and paint
on the inside of his lungs. I wonder what color they are now. Before winter
got there, I'll bet his lungs looked like trinkets, mirroring a million colors
against the plumred sun of his heart. He thinks they will always be safe there,
but he doesn't know better, doesn't know his heart pumps rust.