Blue Exhaust

April 4, 1968
BY:Janet Reed

At eight, sunk in the back seat
of my dad’s red Corvair, yawning
into my pink flannels, I lost faith fast,
the way a bandage ripped from skin
tears the weave of wound it’s tended.

The night of the murder in Memphis,
we waited in the graveled drive
of a trailer park, my mind on the promise
of ice cream when mom returned.
Engine idling, Dad slumped in his seat,
hand on the Delco’s AM dial,
and hummed a hymn with Loretta Lynn.

I still hear their song, still hear
the motor’s measured piston taps
hollow against the stick in park,
still feel the throttle inhale,
a half-beat of syncopation
in an engine once rebuilt already,
and still unsafe at any speed.

Like the whine of a diesel low on oil,
his voice rose at the news, distinct,
slurs stuttered and steamed
a centrifugal force of words
hot enough to break the block,
and still my mother did not come.

Not daring a breath, my eyes fixed
on the moths kissing yellow bulbs
over the doors of those doublewides,
the oily lights blurring a moving darkness
I did not yet understand, and choked
on the blue smoke of his exhaust.

Janet Reed is a recent second-place winner in Common Ground Review’s poetry contest, judged by Patrick Donnelly, and a 2016 Pushcart Prize nominee. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Chiron Review, Common Ground Review, Tipton Poetry Journal, Avalon Review, I-70 Review, and others. She is at work on her first collection and teaches writing and literature for Crowder College in Missouri.