I have spent the past few years fruitlessly searching boxes and drawers at home for a poem that I wrote in the ninth grade. It was the result of an “ode” assignment; already disillusioned with all the romance bullshit I’d been cranking out since the seventh grade, I’d decided to write my ode to a deeper, more stable love. I wrote my ode to a car.
The car in question was an old bulky thing (I have since identified it as a Pontiac GTO, likely 1967), the color of mint toothpaste, which happened to be parked in front of the ugliest house on the block. I was infatuated with this car from the beginning — perhaps mere days after we moved into that house in St. Louis Park — and I stared at it longingly from the smeared windowpanes of the school bus, fantasizing of the day I turned sixteen. Years later I’d crane my neck as I drove by in my mother’s car, plotting.
“Some day,” I thought at that car, “you are going to be mine.”
Over the years, I never saw that car budge an inch from its position in that driveway. While that may not have bidden well for its working condition, its placement was so picturesque you’d never have wanted it to move: its milkshakey green so gloriously preambled against the neon pink of a worn rambler, whose thick chocolate chip trim seemed to melt down its window panes. Sometimes I wonder if I needed the house, too, as if the real dream were this giant scoop of spumoni, carved out so hideously in our bland suburban landscape. I harbored secret hopes that the car was out of commission, broken beyond repair, so that no one could ever drive it again.
“Please,” its owners sighed gratefully to me in my school bus daydreams, “take that damn car, get the bastard out of our driveway.”
Also in said daydream, I had devoted the last few years of my life to repairing Pontiac GTOs from the mid to late ’60s, and once the car was mine it would take a mere weekend of elbow grease and music montages to restore it to working order. After two days sprawled under the shade of its massive body, I would wipe my sweaty brow with a bandanna, and turn the key in the ignition to hear a rumble and purr of the engine. I was the fireman, the car my helpless kitten. “You owe me one,” I’d say with a wink, tapping the hood.
We’d go on road trips together, blazing through North and South Dakota sunsets: the air conditioner broken, I’d manually roll down all its windows and let the rain fall on my arms when the clouds came in. Obviously, it would break down constantly, leaving me stranded on a barren road to walk miles in the cruel sun, and I would return to it hours later bright pink with sunburn and exhaustion, tools slung in an old canvas bag around my shoulder. Owning a car like that meant you could do shit like that; nothing would ever stop you. My fingernails would be constantly black with oil, my forearms tan. I would drive all over this country and climb to the tops of jagged things, the sun setting on our inky silhouettes.
At some point, visiting home from college, I drove by that bright pink house to see it again, and the car had simply disappeared. No dark spot in the pavement indicating a return, absolutely nothing: like a tooth pulled many years ago, all that remained was an absence, a place for rubbish to gather.
Perhaps appropriately enough, the poem I wrote about that car wasn’t very good. It needed some work, a weekend or two under the sun. But conveniently enough, I have spent the last few years of my life devoted to writing adequate poetry about Pontiac GTOs from the mid to late ’60s, and now all I need is those few parts, the basic frame — before I forget it ever existed, and find myself floating down these highways in new Prius Zipcars, the windows up, the bumps in the road merely theoretical as I just try to get to the next place as quickly as possible, just try to arrive.