Once I jumped the curb, confusing the brake
and accelerator; or maybe my parallel parking
approached a calamitous sideswipe. Picture this:
Dad and I sit sunk in our quarrel, losing steam,
as gardens around us undulate shade and light.
When you appear in the rear view mirror,
I am not surprised. This is your street; I brought
you the galleys in March, when you broke your leg.
Poised on the top step, dressed to go out in your blue
patterned blouse I remember from high school English,
you read a letter in your hand.
I ache for that summer. What if I had run down
the sidewalk waving? Would you have been glad
to see me, and Dad, storming there in the front seat,
never really understanding why I chose poetry over
science and safety, would he have said, “Go talk
to your teacher. You might not get this chance again.”?
There is no turning back over the road we litter
with those futile tears and lost moments.
His clean carpentry, our front door
with its intricate white panels and little panes
of glass, planed to perfection; and the pure craft
of your poetry, with its neatly stitched seams,
so beautiful and exacting: what are these but the art
of living true? You taught me, both of you, before
you died in the same month of a year still distant
from that wide and leafy day. The faith you had in me!
So fierce I almost could not believe it, squandering myself
in fitful starts and bursts of speed, popping the clutch.
Maybe it was not a good time.
Clearly you had someplace to go (off to ride
camels in Egypt again, as you did one holiday,
or to Machu Pichu, which you wrote me about
later, in your last week); and I, in my girl’s life,
had to learn to drive. Standing in front of your
dark red brick house on the corner, probably
(though I can’t quite remember) in sight
of your father’s roses that you would one day
write poems about, you did not look up.
Driving Lesson was first published in the January 2006 issue of The Cresset.