Charles Kenneth “C. K.” Williams (November 4, 1936 – September 20, 2015)
My grandson wants a Ferrari. I buy one for him. Why not?
The second a Mercedes. The third a Porsche. Why not?
How things change—my grandfather wanted only the pickup
one icy Rochester night the year before I was born
he skidded through a gate in and plowed head on into a train.
My grandsons’ cars cost a dollar, part of a vast collection
of racers, convertibles, trucks, even antiques from the time
I had my first car, a five-year-old ungainly green *Chevy*,
not like Lowell’s father’s spanking new one—“with gilded hoofs,”
wrote Lowell, and, slashingly, “his best friend.”
I treasured my *Chevy*, too, though it plodded compared with
a friend’s *Olds* that sped us one New Year’s Eve
after the parties down the Parkway at a hundred and ten.
My grandfather I gather was vain of his truck, and his driving,
but my grandmother would grumble, “He was a terrible driver.”
We were good drivers, we were certain, better than good—
didn’t we all but live in our cars? Wasn’t the best part even
of a date when you made out with your girlfriend in back?
Right now, hitting *a hundred*, don’t we love each other
for how our tires are glued to the pavement and life has no end?
I hadn’t seen Warhol’s print yet of mangled teen-agers
spilled from their wreck. I didn’t see much then beyond cars,
like my grandsons, who know every make, model,
top speed and zero to sixty by heart, and who’ll squabble
because one has stolen another’s X-something or other.
My grandfather was a Socialist when that word still could be used.
He even ran for state senate, though not surprisingly lost—
he was hardly well off, with a store that sold candy and papers,
and why he needed that broken-down truck, my grandmother
still complained on her deathbed, was a mystery to her.
The first time I was almost killed in a car, an axle sheared,
our back wheel bounced past us, we spun out of control
over a busy highway, and pulled up a yard from a tree,
much like the tree in the photo of the death of Camus
with his publisher’s sports car gruesomely wrapped around it.
Such a short time between my automobile madness
and my rapture reading Camus—*Sisyphus* telling me why
suicide wasn’t the route, though at the time it could seem so.
What did he say exactly? I don’t think there was much about love,
which would be my reason now: love, family, poetry, art.
I sometimes imagined my *Chevy* was devoted to me, like a dog.
That was before death arrived; mine and everyone else’s.
Anne Sexton’s father died in a car: dear Anne made certain to, too.
Pollock, Sebald, Halberstam, West; *Tom Mix*, for god’s sake;
me nearly, four times, and my grandfather Charles Kasdin.
Whom for the first time I miss, and whom if I’d been there
I know I could have saved: *Pump the brakes gently*, I’d tell him,
and we’d glide up to the rails, and wait in the beautiful snow.
He’d offer some wisdom to hand on to my grandsons,
the train clattering by us, the mingling steam of our breath.