Reflectors 5

“Admittedly I err by undertaking
This in its present form…”

James Merrill

Sufficient time has passed to prompt
a test of memory. Sufficient time
to travel the road where weathers
and times of day are folded or blended
into one. Who drives? You and I or a family
member on the way to work or an appointment
in the city—notice how hard it is to focus
the journey towards luminescence,
always turning headlights back
towards an inner light. What properties
prefer an ownership, prefer a settlement
of coordinates and value. Back on the market,
the old place still has those horseshoes
turned upside, embossed, watermarked
with luck running out, woven
through interlock mesh, glancing sideways
towards horse paddock and its vestigial
mushrooms, horses just light enough
to make something of gymkhana.
The twists and turn ignite.
As back through corners are past trees
in light burnished on spectrum’s edge,
a pink-orange doused in greylight,
varieties of rust, tensions making stories
as shouts and demands to be let out
strand you always on a gravel corner,
at the thin end of a mega-burnout,
blacker than asphalt, zigzagging
over crests and sharp bends, a ledge,
devout dedication to annihilation—
the air thinner and evasive
where paddocks open out,
unreadable near mallee outcrops,
spiders pulling traps shut;
reflectors start to burn—chips
of speech, bytes of locution. By now
quarry owners would have undermined
the scarp, deceptively divided
road and habitat—admiring the view
no matter what it’s built upon, admittedly
enjoying driving conditions where the road
expands. The car—a house, comfortable
in the loungeroom, legs stretched out,
steering the television—remote control
sparking its redeye like a startled
but confident animal. But there’s
no comparison, and the dead litter
roads everywhere there’s scrub or trees or open space
where there’s pollution not yet critical,
or critical and caught in a delayed reaction.
Who are we telling this? Who changes
radials when they’ve run down to snarling
hooks of metal? What details
can be added from here? The close-up
lost to panorama even where trees
attempt to close over, to cut out moonlight
or sick haloes of UFOs. We’ve seen them,
up close—headlines that wouldn’t rate
a line, like the thylacine seen at the eye
of the road, where the river is blood
in an optic nerve. I break, I swerve, I accelerate
into the curve. They seem not to want
to appreciate low ground, saltbush
and samphire, needles and Christmas spiders
that translate as tethered cities, aerial
cultures that don’t come down until death:
insects caught on the mesh of the grille,
enfolded in the radiator: antifreeze and coolant,
maintaining 93 degrees centigrade as liquid
runs through the engine block, cylinder head,
the pump working as hard as a heart.
The pump as a heart? Vice versa?
Thermostat regulating flow?
Radiator: heat exchange, fins and tubes,
inlet and outlet, air flow, turbulator,
gnats, mosquitoes, flies, and dozens, possibly
hundreds of species genetically compacted,
turbulated, distance on the clock increasing,
distance home decreasing
proportionally. Petition. Ask for
information. AKS. Lexical Englishes
here to deny trails and totems,
gathering on scrubby crests, around York gums,
crossing now-time journeys and non-time
transversals: “Wandering” is a town further south
searching for displaced letters
and categories, a metathesis, a recall
of something read, elsewhere, or cogitated,
vacantly staring at particles run together,
like painstakingly compiled sequences
for a space-flick that takes a few seconds
of screen time…days or weeks in the making.
Caught up on the side of the road: engine problems,
something entangled in the chassis,
a quick piss, searching back into darkness…
reflectors inverting impact with a roo.
The motivation and cessation of bodily functions:
there’s a high road-toll on this stretch.
It’s the weekender distances,
eye-soothing scenery, distance
between hotels and bottle shops.
Colloquial. Familiar. Dismissive—
it’s dealt with like that, if not entirely forgotten,
prompted by small white crosses, a motorcycle helmet,
variable wreaths of non-cellulose flowers.
And a roo dragged into parrot bush: shreds of clothing
where the spiked leaves have hooked
a concerned passerby. At high speed with the windows down
you can smell the bloating carcass. This is meat.
Occasion, survival, terror, trauma.
Seemed the dignified thing to do, what else… Insurance
covered it, thank God. Shoved the grille
into the radiator, crushed fins,
impaired tubes…those long-distance
dependencies, constrained by local
superstition, unbound by hopes of personal success—
of a faster car, of geographical distractions…
a holiday in the mountains, or on an island so small
there are no straight lines, only corners.

About John Kinsella:
John Kinsella’s most recent volumes of poetry are Peripheral Light: Selected and New Poems (W. W. Norton, 2003), Doppler Effect: Collected Experimental Poems (Salt, 2004), and The New Arcadia (W. W. Norton, 2005).