James Cihlar: “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.

Table of Contents | Next Page