The young tough across the street in his undershirt is washing his car,
A brilliant black Camaro, with its V8 engine, white letter tires,
And Holley carbs, just like his dad’s. On Sundays,
father and son head out for a car show, but right now,
I’m the one impressed: the cars are sleek black cats
Dreaming in the sun.
Around here, people are their cars, even the ones that squat on the greasy drive
Of the wild blue house next door to the kid in his undershirt.
It’s a chop shop. As for Bobby, the kid with the Camaro,
I know his dirty secrets. I saw him on the avenue,
leaning back on the hood, and shouting at a brown-skinned girl
who tossed her proud black hair and walked away, to leave him gesticulating.
For a moment he stands there, frozen, lost in her defiance,
then he’s back in the car, banshee-screeching out a u-turn and
trailing black stink of burnt rubber. Now, out of the car, he drags her in
before she can scream, and they’re off to where I don’t want to think about.
Swiping his chamois across the car’s black flank, his face is open
and innocent as a child’s. I could weep for the violence
of our wanting our way. The blue sky looks down to soothe
my own anger and the bruised heart of the brown girl,
naked, defenseless against us.
Bert Stern taught at Wabash for 40 years and is Milligan Professor Emeritus of English. He lives in Somerville, MA, teaches in the Changing Lives Through Literature program, and is founding editor at Off the Grid Press.