Learning to Drive
It was the manual choke that got me,
that and the short but steep slope
of our drive to the road, stopping
before the edge, guessing the biting point.
Our Ford Fiesta did its best, tried
to chug smoothly, to even out breaths.
But me, I hadn’t yet learned to predict
the tone of steeled vibrations.
Week after week, hour after taut hour
of lessons with my dad,
everything about us cramped
into the space behind the steering wheel.
Arms brittle in plastic ballerina pose,
I’d grip the padded plastic, lift
my foot from one pedal, jolt-dance
on brake, accelerator, brake.
He’d watch, his back a closed door,
hands manacled to each knee,
though he couldn’t stop his left foot tapping.
So many times I inched us from the slope,
juddering…but in control.
Then we’d hear the engine gasp
and catch its breath,
as we stumbled,
…………………….then lurched forward.
Like my dad, Leonardo’s letters –
his mirror-script written right to left –
were before their time.
But there’s meaning between the lines.
Anatomical studies of the foetus,
our legs, head, eyes… Behind his art,
dissection, wax injections and the flow
of millet seeds through a glass heart valve.
My dad’s engineering – traffic flow
through towns – is unremembered,
re-developed. The letters he wrote
to me at university were filled
with years of nurture: from foetus
to tumbling toddler, through teen heart-break
to the homesickness of life
away from childhood and family.
Unappreciative at the time,
I now unfold Dad’s words to read
and re-read each copper-plated line;
my heart brims with meaning.
Sarah James is a poet, fiction writer, journalist, photographer and occasional playwright/short script writer. Her latest poetry collections are plenty-fish (Nine Arches Press) and the Overton Poetry Prize winning sequence Lampshades & Glass Rivers (Loughborough University). A short novella, Kaleidsocope, is published by Mantle Lane Press later this year. Her website is at www.sarah-james.co.uk and she is editor at V. Press, poetry and flash imprint.