Thanksgiving Traffic

Mon, 12/30/2013 - 23:11 -- Junlei

It was the Thanksgiving of childhood
the chopsticks laid out in neat parallel lines,
the turkey, golden brown and untouched,
waiting for my father and my grandparents
for their footsteps beyond the door.
I never heard them that year, at least—
not at that place,
and not at that time.

But I did hear the dropping minutes.
Every second my father did not arrive,
two lifetimes of worry sounded in my mother’s eyes.
She told me
“Jimmy,
turn on the radio,
I want to listen to
the traffic report.”
And the very possibility
that on some dark desert highway
my father and grandparents
had met metal and glass and plastic
in a way that no human being should ever meet metal and glass and plastic
made me realize
that oblivions is close.
The only thing separating
a regular Thanksgiving
from the wreckage of lost living
existed in the reflexes of drivers and the friction of wheels.
And so I prayed that biology and physics would not fail my family.
I pleaded that nerve impulses would travel fast enough,
for coefficients of kinetic friction to be high enough,
and for God to exert his influence
over people and processes of this world.

The phone’s tone silenced my prayers,
my mother mute as she listened to formless words.
And five minutes later,
my mother, sister, and I deserted the turkey
boarded the minivan to go to a city called “Fontana,”
to visit a building called the “E.R.”

Impersonal lights marked the road outside,
the angry reds of the cars in front of us
the staring yellows of the cars passing by us.
I loathed the road then and there,
rejoiced in the rubber burns it received
fueled by suburban army of daily commuters and our oil lust.
But then again,
did it resent such treatment?
Did the road retaliate a traffic torrent so high
that death came daily?
A thousand was a statistic,
until my family almost joined
those broken bodies and drifting souls.

And the stifling stillness of the E.R.
like the sand paper minutes of the sitting room
grinded the surface of my patience to nothing
ending only at the sight
that they were okay.
My father, grandma, and grandfather were okay.
Even when clothes they had bought in bags,
tore to cotton confetti
flipped over to leave the mangled corpse of the car,
they were okay.
And that was enough, that Thanksgiving’s day.
 

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