Rebecca Lindenberg

Elegy for my Car, Wrecked on the Cape Highway

I’m so sorry, I wanted to comfort you
    !50!sitting there in the Anchor Auto lot,

one headlight hanging loose, the other
    !50!smashed in under the up-crumpled hood.

I wanted to say goodbye as if you were
    !50!a lunged animal, a creature of hoof

or paw, who had a skull crushed in, not
    !50!a radiator. And I felt responsible

because you were mine, because I was the one
    !50!who made you spend your last good day

with the windshield wipers on, eight hours
    !50!in the rain from Geneva, New York

to the end of the earth, where I was returning
    !50!ten years later, and just forty minutes

from there, a fast highway exit, some traffic
    !50!backed up, a chorus line of brake lights

rippling back to me too fast and I smashed
    !50!your stop pedal to the floor, but it just

wasn’t enough. And I hate it when things
    !50!aren’t enough, which seems to happen

quite a lot of the time. Here, perhaps
    !50!I’m more keen to the feeling, since

this is where I came to mourn my beloved
    !50!who went missing, and for all I did, and

all his brother did, and for all the police
    !50!did, and the Congresspeople and

Senators, not a trace of him was found. And I tried
    !50!to rescue his daughter, and though

I can give her a roof, an allowance,
    !50!someone to talk to, a kept promise,

I cannot give her what she needs, the
    !50!childhood she never really had.

I buy her new jeans, she shows up
    !50!in the same patched sweatpants, says

this is what anarchy looks like. Okay,
    !50!I say, whatever frosts your cupcake,

and I really, really want to mean it,
    !50!just as I really, really want to

mean it when I tell a student I don’t
    !50!take their angry email personally.

It’s never enough, though I test my blood
    !50!for sugar all day long, let the doctors

workshop my days, consider my body,
    !50!there is no cure for the disease I cannot

remember living without, nor the fears
    !50!that are, for me, its worst complication.

And these things, and the trying-to-make-
    !50!ends-meet which is also somehow

never quite enough (because one month
    !50!there’s a water leak driving up the bill,

the next my daughter pulls off the handle
    !50!of you, the little silver car, because

the door was iced shut and she didn’t
    !50!realize). And there’s the psychological

warfare of politicians whom I resist but
    !50!letterhead stationary, early phone calls

might as well be burnt as offerings
    !50!in my bathtub, pleas ashing in my mouth.

I was driving you far from the bills
    !50!and the clamor of everybody’s panic

so I could return to this desolate place where
    !50!I listen to the sand blown up on the street

grind beneath my feet as I stride the ocean-
    !50!side blocks of town, or the waves

shushing up into the breakwater. It’s bleak
    !50!here, austere in my favorite ways,

and it calms me. When I drove out here ten
    !50!years ago, grieving, guilt-winnowed, nerves

shrill with a singular purpose – it was to finish
    !50!a conversation that had ended

before it was over for me, to write the rest
    !50!of my own side, to say goodbye

and maybe that’s why I’ve been having
    !50!such confusing dreams. The smells

of salt-brined cedarwood and new lilac
    !50!remind me in ways I am not full-aware

that there’s some symmetry here, in this
    !50!fearful motion from then to now.

My future husband tells me I am not a bad
    !50!person for having had a car wreck

and my sister tells me I am not a bad person
    !50!for having a future husband now,

and I know they’re both telling me the truth.
    !50!But another truth is this: I am not good

at saying goodbye. So I cry, and I founder
    !50!and the nice man at Anchor Auto says,

It’s okay. We develop relationships with cars.
    !50!And I’m reminded of an old IKEA ad,

anthropomorphizing a lamp left stooped
    !50!in a rainy gutter while the new one glows

in a cozy window and then a guy with a German
    !50!accent says, The lamp has no feelings –

And for a moment I feel humor as relief. Still,
    !50!this car brought me into my own future

many times. You brought me here, and back
    !50!and forth to the retinal specialist in Utah

and out of Utah, when a whiskey-ed up man
    !50!said to me the cruelest things I’d ever heard –

I drove with my Dad, and we ate off paper bags
    !50!in our laps – cheeseburgers – and talked

and you brought me to a new job at a steepled
    !50!brick university, despite the snows –

Thank you, for giving me some freedom
    !50!at times when I needed it most. Thanks

for helping me to get away, when away
    !50!is where I needed to be. And thank you

for, in the end, bringing me home safely,
    !50!for taking that final blow, so I did not.

Rebecca Lindenberg is the author of Love, an Index (McSweeney’s) and The Logan Notebooks (Mountain West Poetry Series), winner of the 2015 Utah Book Award. She’s the recipient of an Ohio Arts Council Individual Excellence Award, an Amy Lowell Traveling Poetry Fellowship, an NEA Literature Grant, and a residential fellowship from the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, among other awards. Her work appears widely, including Best American Poetry 2019, POETRY, The Believer, McSweeney’s Quarterly, American Poetry Review, Tin House, and elsewhere. She is a member of the poetry faculty at the University of Cincinnati, where she also serves as poetry editor for the Cincinnati Review.