From a photo of my grandparents
in a 1928 Whippet Roadster
The hired hands were all alcoholics,
beer runners into Ontario—
among them my grandfather who
swerved his Whippet into a pond.
I pull him out
of the picture, the pond, the unlit past.
He was a happy drunk until
at Buster’s speakeasy (pull him out at last)
on a payday afternoon
he drank himself into a bad dream
about anything and nothing (dreams
and go), too drunk to know or care
a mad octopus swinging crowbars,
bars became crows.
He was only dreaming,
stoned at the edge
of a pond of vomit,
awoke to the wounded
of a fallen angel . . .
her name was
Violet (my great aunt).
His chrome-bright smile
and plush tweed hair . . .
the tintype doesn’t do him justice,
doesn’t show the airbrushed layers
of cool Ohio evenings
in the Whippet whipping him onward.
Violet turtled into the rumble seat.
took off down Statesville
to Buster’s (pull
them out, and fast),
with grins like
gleaming radiator grills.
They split the
wheat on either side,
feeling their oats
and guzzling grain.
After crashing (and stashing the hootch),
he flagged a mule team, hauled the car out,
beat the front of the fender smooth
the best he could by Sunday morning
when the vows and vessels broke,
spilling wine on the cloth in the name
of St. Joe’s Catholic Church.
The Whippet wallowed in rutted mud
with the black Tin Lizzies of the working men
(Amen, brethren) as he sat in the family pew tinted
green from withdrawals and stained glass
. . . praying for Violet (which means faithfulness)
who’d taken a turn — pneumonia,
puss in the lungs from riding in the rumble seat
and standing garters-deep in cold water,
slapping him awake with screams
as he smiled and dreamed of the octopus.
They called the only Lucas County doctor . . .
rolled her onto the kitchen table,
slipped her head onto a pillow of cock feathers.
Three days out she turned the color of her name
and died at seventeen.
It was early spring, the year of The Crash.
They were to marry in summer,
but his dreams crashed like a hidden hemorrhage,
like the spring beneath its downy green
(you’d never know the ruts, the mud).
So Belle, the eldest (my grandmother)
left the wake early, boastful,
claiming to know how to care for a man
with a daredevil smile and a car like that.
Second-choice, second-best sister,
but she promised to fix his damaged love.
Cl-ap! goes the tintype at Spielbusch Market,
goes the life of my grandfather shirtless
behind the wheel of his Whippet, a roll-your-own
centered in a smile big as Al Jolson’s,
my grandmother’s young and bonneted face
peering out from the rumble seat.
She was thrilled to ride to the picture show
at the Paramount downtown (the talkies were a gas!)
across from LaSalle’s Department Store,
was thrilled as the wind unraveled her ribbons
in the Whippet whipping them onward.