Writing With a Flat

A Poetry Squawk
By Robert Carr
Author of Amaranth

With PK_originalOn the way to workshop I hit the curb in a Boston rotary and blow out a tire. I pretend it hasn’t happened, though the percussion of the rim on the Mystic Valley Parkway is deafening. Already, an inner voice is yelling, “Why the hell didn’t you pull over sooner, you’ll destroy your rim!” My reply? “I’m workshopping a poem about jerking-off and I want to get to class!”

So, I accept that I’m not going to make it another three miles to the poets that gather in Cambridge and I pull off the road. I’ve always had a lot of power in my head, but when it comes to being in the world of doing things—that’s been sporadic.

I’m fifty-six years old and I’ve never changed a tire. I text Tom, the workshop facilitator, and tell him I’ve broken down. I call my husband Stephen and tell him I’m breaking down. I need him to help me to find the thing you use to raise the car. The…jack, that’s right!

That’s when the next poem comes—it’s not about rotaries, or traffic circles, or round-a-bouts, or flats, or the grease that should be on my hands. It arrives with anxiety, sharpens like a high beam, speeds into the anger of being incapable.

The poem quickly finds the voice of a queer speaker. The voice is pissed. I’m on the memo app of my phone tapping out the words and by the time Stephen pulls in behind me there’s a baby poem in the world. With his tongue, the “you” flips lit cigarettes in and out of his mouth to amuse a child. I’m playing with line breaks.

When it’s not things like hitting curbs (or really anything that makes me feel something during the day), poems come at me at night like dreams or nightmares. In that half-space between sleep and waking, a word, a phrase, an entire poem shows up and demands to be written down. I keep my phone beside the bed and light up that memo app. (It’s 4:53 a.m. right now and that’s what happened about a half-hour ago when I woke up thinking about tires.)

The words in my head demand the writing. It’s pretty obnoxious. Even when I’m alone in the middle of the night. When I’m with other people (usually Stephen), it’s more obnoxious. “Stop! Pull over! I’ve got to get this down!” Otherwise, it’s gone.