Getting in Our Kicks on Route 66
We draw an imaginary line
between us, dividing the back seat
into two separate territories.
I tease and taunt, never one for rules,
sliding slow fingers or toes toward
the invisible strip of neon yellow.
My sis believes in regulations
my disrespect offends
her sense of desert justice,
she wants eyeballs and teeth
in return for broken boundaries.
I chalk it up to our nomadic lives;
eight schools, two countries,
six states in which to start anew,
leave her hungry for control and approval,
leave me rebellious, sneaky, proud —
way too many huge emotions to stuff
into the backseat of a fifty-seven Buick
trundling along Route 66
through the worst Kansas,
Oklahoma and Texas has to offer,
way before it becomes cool.
Surreptitious pinching, inching,
kicking, flicking leads to fisticuffs,
screeching tires, sudden stops.
We, who have been so desperate
to stop anywhere anytime,
are pulled from the car,
shame-spanked beside the road
giving my dad all the excuse he needs
to flash by dinosaur bones, reptile farms,
giant frying pans, wig-wam motels
and ice cream while he,
impervious to pleading,
pushes pedal to the metal …
lights up another Lucky Strike.
Years ago, after a reading, a fellow poet gave me a small handmade card. It was a poetic license and I kept it in my wallet till it crumbled. I make out my own now and hand them out to other poets. The rebellious girl, I describe above is not so rebellious that she doesn’t crave validation for who she is. She’s learned a lot since enduring those never ending road trips that punctuated her childhood. She’s more courageous, less prideful and kinder. Where she used to see make-believe as something different from reality, now she knows that most of what passes for reality is illusion and the real things, the true things, are hidden in plain sight. It takes a poetic eye to see them and describe them. It takes storytelling to pull the covers off. Such disclosures demand license.
I’m not fond of writing memoir. It just isn’t very interesting to me, after all mine is the story I know best. I’ve been living with it a long time and there aren’t many surprises left. Lately, more and more writing teachers turn to memoir as an easy writing prompt. With good reason – its a steady source of raw material, most people delight in telling their stories and having folks listen to them, and it can be enlightening and cathartic to those with less introspective bents, producing emotional writing full enthusiastic insights. Nevertheless, memoir seems limited to, perhaps even caters to, the prevalent notion that the individual – be they generic, corporate or singular – is the center of the universe around while, all else revolves. This is why I find memoir limiting.
The poem I wrote today is almost purely factual. I’ll probably send it to my sister, and we’ll remember the old animosity and thank the Goddess we’ve finally learned to be friends. Good will come of this poem, but it wasn’t as satisfying as if I’d had us stop at that reptile farm and experience something tremendously dark or humorous that would have sprung from the present, rather than the past me. I think the license to change the story opens the field and let’s truth wander around landscapes unlimited by fact. Fiction seems roomier and much more truthful in the long run. That’s why I hang onto my poetic license.