Poem of the Week | July 23, 2018

This week, we are excited to present a new poem by Rob Shapiro. Shapiro received his MFA from the University of Virginia, where he was awarded the Academy of American Poets Prize. His work has appeared in The Southern Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, Blackbird, and Prairie Schooner, where he was awarded the Edward Stanley Award. He lives in New York City.

My Father, Driving to the Moon

Back then, neither of us could sleep. We left
               our windows open, took the cool air

         down into our lungs carrying night’s songs—

tree frog or loon—the dark an animal
               we called back inside the house.

          My father’s father had just passed away

and sometimes, lying in bed, I wanted
               to believe disappearing was impossible;

          wanted to close my eyes, refuse

the black tide of night rushing in. Too afraid
               to sleep, I stayed up with my father

          watching baseball (nodding off to the wave

of chatter, waking to the bat’s sharp crack)
               before he wrapped my arms around his neck

          and carried me—bouquet-like—back upstairs.

Other nights, we drove his Toyota
               until we were lost on unpaved roads—

          somewhere we’d never been before—

the car warm and smelling like rain,
               his foot steady on the gas, the woods

          deepening around us. Already his car

was ancient: engine straining up hills, seat fabric
               worn through. He said he almost had enough

          miles to reach the moon, his voice

sinking beneath the radio’s swell
               while from the backseat I watched dark leaves

          swing in branches like silent bells.

Everyone at home was asleep, but we
               followed his headlights further, past rows

          of dark houses, swimming pools filling up

with stars, going on that way for miles
               as I imagined the car’s rusted belly

          floating up above the trees, untethered at last,

determined to vanish with him still inside—
               one hand on the wheel, profile soft—

          sleepless, somebody steering, somebody not.

Author’s Note:

Growing up, my dad used to take me on what we called “get lost trips.” He’d drive on unfamiliar roads until we were totally lost, and then, together, we’d find a new way home. It was something he did as a boy with his own father, and I’ve always thought of those treks as a way to channel my grandpa and ride in his wake, so to speak. Of course, the trips were also about control: our ability to both relinquish and regain it (something that stressed me out from the backseat, let me tell you!).

I don’t know if these stories actually overlapped—if my grandpa passing away coincided with my own fear of death or the “get lost trips” in my dad’s old Camry—but the pieces seemed to speak to each other in an exciting way. It made sense to me: why a family confronting the realities of death would consider how far a celestial body was from their world. It was a distance that always felt unreachable, and yet, at the same time, felt close.