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The Wreck [Poetry]

by David Kirby

  • Bobby Wilkerson had an affinity for accidents
  • i.e., not for having but for coming across
  • wrecks, drownings, kids who’d run over their
  • own feet with a lawnmower, houses afire:
  • you name it, and Bobby had pulled someone free,
  • pumped water from her lungs, used his belt
  • ……as a tourniquet to stop the bleeding,
  • or organized a bucket brigade, and all
  • since you’d seen him last, even though
  • that might have just been yesterday.
  • And he wasn’t always successful, either:
  • Bobby was not one of those guys who
  • ……was always telling you what a hero he was.
  • ………To the contrary, he seemed a little mystified
  • by his talent for stumbling upon the misfortune
  • of others and not altogether happy about it;
  • ……in fact, I’m not sure no one would have known about
  • most of the accidents Bobby came across
  • were it not that they were witnessed by
  • ……at least one and usually two or three other guys,
  • because Bobby was the gregarious type
  • and was always looking for fellows to go to
  • New Orleans with or maybe just over to Maringouin
  • to try and pick up Cajun girls at the Honeydipper,
  • ……though as soon as they got on their way, sure enough,
  • they’d see a bunch of kids screaming by the edge
  • ………of a pond or flames licking up the side of a shack
  • sitting off by itself in a field somewhere.
  • ……Someone would say, Goddamn, Bobby!
  • and Bobby would say Whoooa, shit,
  • and that would be the end of that expedition.
  • Once Bobby and a bunch of his friends
  • ……decided to go to Austin and they asked
  • ………Bobby’s younger brother Clayton to go
  • and me, too, who, like Clayton was
  • a sophomore. If you remember high school,
  • ……you know what the approval of older guys means
  • and therefore what a big deal it was
  • for Clayton and me to be crammed in that car.
  • with Bobby and three of his friends, all seniors,
  • ………and kid around and have them tease us
  • and get the benefit of everything they knew
  • about sports and school and parents and women.
  • We drove all afternoon and well into the night,
  • ……taking turns driving and stopping only to pee,
  • and once when I was sleeping,
  • ………I felt someone shake my shoulder,
  • it was Bobby handing me half a Pet Ritz pecan pie
  • ……and saying, Eat this before somebody else does,
  • and I scarfed that pie in bleary-eyed ecstasy,
  • happier than anyone could know that I was
  • one of the crowd and that we were going to Texas.

***

  • ……Then we can across the wreck.
  • This would be sometime after midnight
  • on a two-lane just over the Louisiana border,
  • and I would have been in the passenger’s seat,
  • ……studying the map and making sure the driver
  • stayed awake. Then I saw what at first looked
  • ………like a grounded flying saucer resting right on
  • the center stripe, it was a car turned sideways,
  • ……with its dome light on. Pull over, I said,
  • and whoever was driving started to park
  • on the shoulder and then slammed on the brakes –
  • there was a tractor-trailer rig on the roadside,
  • ……big as a building and, because there was no moon
  • ………that night, all but invisible in the darkness.
  • Whoooa, shit, said Bobby. We could hear people
  • crying in the car, so we headed toward that way,
  • ……but Bobby said, David, see if there is anybody
  • in the truck, and gave me his flashlight.
  • I hauled myself up on the step to the driver’s door,
  • and, sure enough, there he was,
  • ………his head resting against the wheel.
  • Mister, I said, mister, but he didn’t budge,
  • so I slipped my hand inside his shirt,
  • and there was no heartbeat,
  • ……and the hair on his chest was scratchy and thick,
  • but beneath it the skin was already so cool
  • ………that I jumped back as though burned,
  • and when I shined the light in his eyes, I could see
  • ……that he was fair-haired and small-featured
  • but gray in color, almost blue.
  • Nothing to be done here, I thought,
  • and joined the others, who had more or less
  • ……gone to hell: there were four fellows
  • about our age in the car, the two in front
  • obviously dead and the ones in the back horribly injured
  • yet conscious and screaming incoherently,
  • ……like big dying babies; you could see their skulls
  • through the rips in the skin. There was blood and whiskey
  • and piss all over the seats and the windows,
  • ………and the two boys who were alive kept trying to move
  • ……and then screamed even more loudly, because their bones
  • were broken, and they were going through all this
  • for no reason, because even I could see
  • there was no way they were going to recover.
  • ……We were the first ones on the scene, but others came along,
  • and someone found a farmhouse and called for help,
  • ………and an ambulance came, and a couple of tow trucks,
  • and within an hour the highway was empty
  • ……except for some glass and a couple of puddles.
  • The rain’ll get that, said a trooper, and he thanked us,
  • even though we hadn’t really done anything.
  • And then we were on our way to Austin again.

***

  • ……I avoided Clayton after that because I didn’t want
  • Bobby to ask us to go anywhere with him anymore.
  • I wasn’t afraid — in fact, I always felt safe
  • around Bobby, because the bad luck was always happening
  • ……to somebody else — yet I was disturbed,
  • not by the dead, who, in their way, were composed
  • ………and well out of it, but by the dying,
  • who were going through all kinds of things
  • ……you can only imagine taking place in some medieval
  • torture chamber. I know Clayton’s feelings
  • were hurt because he didn’t know what I was thinking,
  • and I didn’t, either, since I was acting on
  • ……adolescent instinct and not some careful rationale.
  • ………So that’s another injury right there,
  • though one I’m sure he got over fairly quickly,
  • given the celebrated resilience of the young.
  • ……On another level, the scene with the dying boys
  • must have crash-landed somewhere within me and stayed there
  • like a corpse in the desert untouched by wind or water,
  • because sometimes if I see a car at night with
  • ………its dome light on, I feel helpless and freeze up.
  • And if I smell blood and whiskey in the same breath,
  • I’ll have dreams in which the dying boys fly at me
  • out of a red haze and scream, You son of a bitch,
  • ……we didn’t have a good life, it was too short
  • and it ended badly, do something about it.

 

***

David Kirby is the Robert O. Lawton Distinguished Professor of English at Florida State University. His collection The House on Boulevard St.: New and Selected Poems was a finalist for the National Book Award in 2007. Kirby is the author of Little Richard: The Birth of Rock ā€˜nā€™ Roll, which the Times Literary Supplement of London called ā€œa hymn of praise to the emancipatory power of nonsense.ā€ Recent books include two collections of poetry, The Biscuit Joint and A Wilderness of Monkeys. See www.davidkirby.com for more information.

 


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