Friday, August 5, 2011

Stephen Dobyns

Short Rides

What is the division between good intention
and best behavior? Or rather, let's say it's
a fence, a ditch, some sort of barrier since
many times we stand on one side looking over
at the creature we should be but aren't. And this,
it seems, is where we are often most human,
lost in the country between Want To and Can't.

A man is hitchhiking. The devil picks him up.
Where to? says the devil, who is in disguise
and looks like an old lady in a blue straw hat
who just happens to be driving a Ferrari.
My father is sick, I must see him, says
the man who's never been in a Ferrari before.
This one is red and very fast. The man has to
hang onto his baseball cap. The world flies by.
Apparently by accident, they zoom past
the father's house. The man doesn't speak.
After a few more blocks, the devil makes
a U-turn and drives him back. That was
a real treat, says the man. Inside, he finds
that two weeks have gone by. His father
is dead and buried. Everyone is disappointed.
Even the police have been out looking. What
can I say, says the man, I guess I let you down.
The phone rings. It's his wife who tells him,
Come home right away. The man hitchhikes home.
The devil picks him up in his bright red Ferrari.
By now the man is suspicious but yet when they
whiz by his house he doesn't make a peep.
He leans back and feels the sun on his brow.
When the devil gets him home two more weeks
have disappeared. His wife has moved out lock,
stock and barrel; the house is empty except
for the telephone, which begins to ring. Now
it's his mother who's sick. I'll be right over,
says the man. The Ferrari is waiting at the curb.
The man doesn't hesitate. He leaps inside.
He leans back. Once more the wind is in his hair.
He wallows in soft leather as in a warm bath.
But this time he knows the score, knows the driver
isn't a little old lady, knows they will zoom
past his mother's house, that he won't protest.
He knows his mother will die, that he'll miss
the funeral. He searches his soul for just
a whisper of guilt but if it's there, it's been
drowned out by the purr of the big motor.
Am I really so weak? the man asks himself.
And he peers across that metaphorical ditch
to the sort of person he would like to be,
but he can't make the jump, bridge the gap.
Why can't I fight off temptation? he asks.
He sees his future is as clear as a map
with all the bad times circled in red.
He knows that as crisis is piled on crisis
he will find the Ferrari waiting at the curb
and that no matter how hard he tries to resist
he will succumb at last to the wish to feel
the wind riffle his hair, the touch of leather,
to be lulled by the gentle vibration of the motor
as life slips by in a succession of short rides.

From Velocities.

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