Sometime in the summer of 1984, I was driving my wreck of a Toyota stick-shift on a rural Georgia backroad, exhausted from driving for ten hours straight from New Orleans. I fell asleep and ran the car into and out of a ditch, stopping against a tree about ten feet in the woods. The crash pushed the entire front and driver’s side into a metal accordion. There was a deep crack in the back windshield. Luckily, I was wearing a seatbelt. I walked away, literally without a scratch. After pulling both fenders away from the tires, I made my way to my destination, very slowly and carefully.
That close brush with death or severe injury changed my life. Realizing how fragile I was—how mortal—made me understand, almost in an epiphany, that I had been living my life in a constant drift—drifting from one city to another, one profession to another, one relationship to another. I decided to become more serious, more structured, more stable. Within a few years, I set up permanent residence (at least for three decades) in Pittsburgh, got married, had a child, and opened a successful business.
Years later, I wrote a poem about the accident called “The Walkaway” that a now-defunct journal A capella Zoo published. Still later I revised the poem and embedded it into a paragraph in the last chapter of my new novel, The Brothers Silver, set for release by Owl Canyon Press on June 15. I’ve been thinking about the accident and poem lately, I suppose because so many of us are going to find ourselves making resolutions to change our lives dramatically for the better in the wake of the near-brush with death that all of us have had facing the Covid-19 pandemic. Here’s the poem.
THE WALK AWAY
He walks away without a scratch
upended car impressed against a tree
transitioned from the flash of dream-world dead
dissecting tires and piston trickle near
his face and hands enflamed with fear of ceasing
movement, frieze of jagged branch mosaic
tumbles with his skidding tug of seatbelt round around
around a crack in snake-skin windshield fallen, stiff,
caressed by weeping blood is why he’s here is why he’s here,
who cares whose turn it is to turn away
and still to see the maul of dead, the scrum of auto parts
in duck blind ducking hurtled arrows’ aching
screams of stopping wake awake awake to stagnant cipher,
toasted sweetness reek of drunken leaves and peat
becomes a thing that neither touches nor is touched,
eternity in an instant, an instant in eternity
and then the real: he walks away, a different me in him,
a me exhausted but inflexible, drained of mystery,
stripped of all-impeding them and theirs.
Published in A capella Zoo #1 (Fall 2008)