James Cihlar: “The Council Bluffs Drive-In Theater”
THE COUNCIL BLUFFS DRIVE-IN THEATER
The blue corrugated back of the screen
matched the parabola roof that sheltered
the ticket box. In my dad’s big Chevy
we piled in to see a movie, arriving at dusk,
playing on the swing sets below the screen,
the rhythmic rush of being pushed outward
to kick at the audience of anonymous cars
before falling backward, like a second thought,
waiting until dark so the movie could start.
What possessed my parents to take us to an R-rated movie?
Maybe we took what we got at the drive-in, whatever
was showing, and no one asked questions if
a blue collar family with underage kids
rolled in to see Bonnie and Clyde. I was six years old
and remember an extended scene playing out
on the screen of a shoot-out punctuated
by the close-up of a hand with a finger missing.
And that’s it. My attention was more focused
on the scene within the car, on soda bubbles clinging
to the edge of the circle atop a waxed paper cup,
on the heavy face of the electronic speaker,
its spiral neck tethered to a post beyond my father
in the driver’s seat, my mother on the passenger side,
and my three sisters and me playing in the back,
how the drive-in made us both outside and in
at the same time, an inkling that home comes with you,
while the miracle of a soundtrack piped into the car
makes you notice the weight of every
simple action long after the movie’s over,
the slide of soles on a step, the click of a key
in the lock, and the door opening to the glow
of a light above the kitchen sink.
James Cihlar’s new book, The Shadowgraph,is forthcoming from the University of New Mexico Press in 2020. He is the author of the poetry books Rancho Nostalgia (Dream Horse Press, 2013) and Undoing (Little Pear Press, 2008), plus the poetry chapbooks A Conversation with My Imaginary Daughter (Bloom, 2013), and Metaphysical Bailout (Pudding House, 2010). His writing has appeared in American Poetry Review,Threepenny Review, Prairie Schooner, and Nimrod.