Steve Coughlin: “Driving at Twilight”


Let it be late August, Dylan’s “Not Dark Yet”

on the radio, those final moments before

I turn the headlights on. Let me hear Dylan’s raspy vocals

with only a hint of static. It takes a moment

to realize this is my father’s car, the leather seats

of his ’78 Mercury, a blue air freshener dangling

from the rearview mirror. And maybe I’m a little unsettled

because even now, mind hazy, I know my father’s car

is decades gone.

                            I coast along the winding streets

of Massachusetts past old colonials soft

with living room light, streets endlessly empty,

not thinking of my mother’s final days–the hospital bed

in the middle of our living room, her erratic inhalations

as my mother’s favorite big band music

played on a silver radio.     

                                              There’s only a rising sense

of the ocean, the scent of sea water. And maybe I realize

my father’s actually beside me, that he’s been here for miles

wearing a pristine white t-shirt. The static

makes it difficult to hear Dylan

so I turn the radio louder, tap my finger

on the steering wheel. In my father’s car

with its long front-end and polished hubcaps

I’m not concerned about the sky’s deepening purple,

that the months have faded

from August to November–

the beachfront empty, arcade closed.

                                                                      And now it becomes clear

it’s really my father who’s driving. I now understand

that it’s me in the passenger’s seat and my mother’s

at home. Her body moves like it did at 25, her hair again

dark brown. We do not speak

because my father’s got his own favorites playin–Bobby Darin,

Fats Domino. So what if we can barely hear?

So what if the hovering darkness

seems impatient? We’re all so young, my father and me,

and my mother too now sitting behind us, her hand reaching

to touch my father’s shoulder. We drive

as the ocean moves closer but do not worry

because we have these final threads of purple

and are certain–even as the static grows–

there’s something here that will save us.

Steve Coughlin has published poems in various literary journals and magazines, including the Gettysburg Review, New Ohio Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, Gulf Coast, Seneca Review, Slate, and Pleiades. His first book of poetry, Another City, was published in 2014 by FutureCycle Press. Coughlin is an Assistant Professor of English at Chadron State College.

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