When My Car Broke Down
I was somewhere in Utah or Wyoming,
somewhere in the high inhuman deserts,
in the thin blue flame of wavering air,
bluffs of red earth scorched and
stratified on the horizon. I had stopped
to admire the desolation, to smoke
a cigarette and consider that ten thousand
years ago this was all under water,
that strange fish would have swum
through the space my eyes now occupied;
before that ice, and before that
something else again, unimaginably alien.
The Buddhists say first thought best thought,
but my first thought when I saw the steam
billowing up from under my car was:
if I just keep driving, maybe it will go away.
After all, I was moving three thousand miles
not to “escape” my problems but to put
a nice distance between them and me.
A problem has to be fierce to travel that far.
My second thought was to stare at the engine
for a while. I leaned over and looked
down into it as into the bowels of a ship
or the cranium of some fantastic beast.
And recalled how my father tried to teach me
about cars. Mostly he had me hold
the light for hours and mostly I studied
the back of his head, turning over the words
he said and knowing even then I’d never
understand. The blood would drain
from my arm and I’d prop it up
with my one free hand to keep from
caving in or betraying my halfheartedness.
Even then I was hopelessly afflicted
with the disease of the Wandering Mind.
Even then I was dreaming myself
across magical landscapes, just like this,
and learning all he had to teach me
about standing rooted to one spot,
wishing I were somewhere else.
—from Sea of Faith, first published in Poetry