Engine Crisis

Spent parts littered his garage floor:

camshaft, carburetor, and clamps.

Hoses bled out their old clots,

and molted belts snaked

the gray concrete

like Medusa on a bad hair day —


my dad was rebuilding

the car’s engine as he rebuilt

himself when things

went wrong like teeth

grinding gears and groins

to such unholy messes

not even Johnny Cash’s

Boy Named Sue, his hymn

and hero, could spit

penance on broken pieces.  


I hugged my knees to a chest

still flat as checkers

and watched his repair ritual

from a corner of the workbench

surrounded by old Folger’s cans

filled with nuts and nails,

bolts and screws,

organized on shelves

custom made by a man

who valued custom work,


and waited for those valves

and veins buried in detergents

to rise and reverse themselves

like Lazarus exiting his tomb;

the engine’s resurrection  

that proved he was

god of garages,

master of motors.


He torqued, twisted,

said a word or two

that more than once

left a taste of soap

on my teeth,

pushed, then pulled

as if life itself was on the line.


His crescent wrench

clattered on the concrete;

barber-striped grease wiped

from his cheek, he walked

down the drive and out of sight.

Nothing ever scared me

more than a bolt

immobilizing a man’s

proper order of things —

an engine crisis that silenced

everything but Cash

spilling from the speakers

of a GE clock radio

on a workbench shelf,  


and I, so deep inside

that moment, have never

stopped running

from what can’t be fixed.


This poem was a semi-finalist in the Crab Creek Review poetry contest Fall 2016


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