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An Explanation

May 8, 2012

Walker and I have been going out driving because he needs more practice at feeling the turns and judging the distances before he can take the test to get his license. He’s good enough at it now that I can look out the window at azaleas and iris and enjoy the feeling of not going anywhere in particular.

I try to impart all the accumulated wisdom of my years on the road, which is real on the one hand, because I have a good record, but funny on the other hand, because he knows I have quite a reputation for getting speeding tickets. When we first moved to small-town Ohio from the outer suburbs of Washington, DC, I got caught speeding twice in one week and had to go to court, where I wanted to explain that the slower pace of life in the middle of the country is literal as well as metaphorical, and that it was going to take me a while to stop thinking that I could go as fast as traffic would allow. But you know how that goes; you never really get to explain yourself to an officer of the law, as Albert Goldbarth’s one-sentence poem so amusingly illustrates:

An Explanation

I wanted to say
that everything was difficult, the moon was required
to crawl first with its elbows then its knees
across the sill of the window before it could enter my room
and, when it did, when it stood there releasing its light
like any two-cent break-and-enterer’s sweep across the objects
there, creating them like stupid startled sheep from out
of darkness, when that happened and I saw how insufficient were
my days and nights and bricabrac, then the taste of regret
infused my tongue—a sour taste, a small toy taste,
it can’t stand like a huge stone Babylonian
temple griffin in the pride of honest bitterness—and I understood
the words “forlorn” and “desolate,” and thus became a wick
up which—for misery loves company—the sorrows
of the greater world deployed their best examples, sorrows
sometimes so more vast than mine—the woman
whose child was born without a brain
inside the saltwater smear of its cranium—that anything,
a sudden drop in temperature of five degrees, a cat that keens
for hours from some mystery distress, could send me
spinning toward the edge of an unmanly weeping and so
I required an antidote, I knew that as instinctively as dogs
know when to swallow grass and thus encourage vomiting,
and I got in the car, this car, this fast American
panacea, out to where the empty outskirts-driving
gives a sacred feeling of forever to the road, and there, the more I took
on speed, the more the speed took me, the more I was
a supersonic ripple on the surface of the dopamine
and the serotonin sugaring the night, and by the time I switched
the radio to oldies rock at sound that matched the speed
–that double-whammy formulation of an irresistible,
irrepressible (and, quite frankly, irresponsible) middle-brow transcendence—
I was howling, I was rabbinically werewolf howling
to the mileage and its partner-in-crime-and-holiness,
the bass-line beat, and I was born to run, and I was born to be wild,
bad to the bone, and born free (free as the wind blows), I was unashamedly
boomer, I was rocketing the stars and davening gloriously
at the Wailing Wall of the hungry heart, my marrow
was a queen bee’s royal jelly of delight, and I was speeding,
I was erasing the planet’s grief, I was a wave of plasma physics,
I was the dark gleam on the pungent roe in a slit in a fish
going back to the Paleozoic, I was speeding, and I had no destination,
forward impetus was itself the destination, I was unrepentantly
speeding, I was surely exoneratably speeding,
That’s what I wanted to say.

Yeah. That’s it. I even like the part of the poem where he is “unashamedly/boomer”–the way that it comes after the enjoyment of all those “oldies” song titles, and how the poem then devolves into different meanings of the word “speeding.”

I’m trying not to pass on this kind of behavior to the next generation. How about you? If you’ve coached a kid in driving, or anticipate having to do it pretty soon, will you instruct your kid to do as I say, not as I do? Or have you kept your reputation as a driver from before you were a parent safely locked away?

12 Comments leave one →
  1. May 8, 2012 9:42 am

    I read “small toy taste” as “soy sauce” – oops.

    I like this poem very much. As a small town kid now living in the ‘burbs and hating it, it’s familiar turf.

    • May 9, 2012 9:08 am

      I like the way the phrase “small toy taste” is so unexpected you want to turn it into something else, and so awkward to say it makes you pause.

  2. May 8, 2012 10:49 am

    I’ve gotten two speeding tickets in my life–one at 16 and well deserved. The other was more of an accident (abrupt speed limit change, just didn’t see it in time). So no, I didn’t have to hide anything.

    The real reason I’m a law abiding driver is because I’d rather go a bit slower than get caught and stung with a ticket. I hate adrenaline and both times I got a ticket, I had a huge adrenaline dump. Yuck.

    • May 9, 2012 9:10 am

      Are there people who will admit to being law flouting drivers? I don’t mean to speed, exactly, but I do get caught up in the feel of forward momentum and forget to look at the speedometer. I will tell you that I will never own a red car again.

  3. May 8, 2012 11:13 am

    I’m mostly law abiding, with the exception of speed limits. However, I’ve only gotten a couple of tickets over the years.

    Having a Prius completely changed my driving style, as I have the instant feedback of how I’m driving is affecting my MPG.

    That said, my dad is one of those people who has fought every single ticket he felt he received unfairly. So I grew up thinking that everyone who wrongly receives a traffic ticket goes and takes photos of the intersection or the stretch of road and creates a presentation for the big day in court. I’ve done this 3 or 4 times in my life. All but one I had the ticket dismissed (once, when I was 17, the judge got furious with the cop for ticketing me, so that was fun to see). The other time, the fine was reduced by 2/3.

    • May 9, 2012 9:14 am

      The satisfaction of having the fine reduced or dismissed is diminished by having to pay court costs, if you ask me. But yes, there is some fun in feeling vindicated. I’ve forgotten the circumstances of the ticket I got when I was nine months pregnant with my first child, but I remember I only had to pay court costs and that in the elevator on the way down, one college student asked another where he’d parked, and he replied that he couldn’t find a space and had to park in a reserved spot. There was a brief silence and then the first student said “well, one crime leads to another.”

  4. May 8, 2012 2:05 pm

    I am too worried that our car will fall apart to speed. But in the past, in a fast car — it’s possible I may have.

    • May 9, 2012 9:14 am

      Just don’t get carried away with a rental car when you come to pick up your daughter at the local college. You will almost certainly get caught.

      • May 9, 2012 8:40 pm

        Actually, I got a ticket the first time we visited — driving on 71 from Mt. Vernon to Columbus. I will be careful!

  5. May 8, 2012 5:03 pm

    I’m not even going to think about the possibility of training BB to drive. It is just too scary. Every time I’ve been stopped for speeding, I’ve burst into tears. It is surprisingly effective for getting off with a warning rather than a ticket.

  6. May 9, 2012 9:21 am

    Tears are less effective as you get older. Really, having a child who is going through driver’s ed makes you aware of how many laws people break every day and you wonder why there aren’t more tickets–the other day I told Walker that I thought he should turn left into the left lane and then look and signal to get in the right lane, and he said that was the law…but it’s flouted almost every time someone makes a left turn here.

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