My Other Self

A weekly poem, read by the author.
Oct. 23 1996 3:30 AM

My Other Self

for Greg and Trish Orr

 

He could have smacked you
for running out of gas, at midnight,
in December, at a middle-of-nowhere place,
coasting a few sorry yards toward home on the shoulder
as a passing eighteen-wheeler's Hawaiian-sized wave of air
whomped the side of the car like a two-story pillow.
As we sat there immobile--the four of us (including him),
as if waiting for the show to begin at a surreal drive-in--
he wanted to reach into the front seat
and bonk your heads together
the way the leader of the Three Stooges did
when the other two did something stupid.
What had been road was now a cold place
without a house light in sight in the rural South.
What had been a passionate highway talk
about the culture's indifference to the artist's work
would have been silence except for him
giggling at us, at how danger dissolves discontent
and flashes before us a life lost to pettiness,
which we soon start to lose again.
"Who said there are no neurotics in wartime?"
he planned to mock us with my voice, but when I got out
to see where we were, he didn't. He brooded in the car.
He didn't feel the pleasure of a skyful of stars
so cold and clear when you look up
its light illuminates your breath.
Nor was he worried about anyone but himself,
being the only one with nothing to worry about,
not made of flesh. He was crying
I wanna go home inside the car
like a child trapped in a junked refrigerator.

This was one time I felt exactly like him,
as we three stood pondering our dilemma calmly, maturely.
And I did again when he yelled I'm scared
as the clunker with wide headlights and bad muffler
("Hell Wagon" or "Devil's Dream" no doubt inscribed on the fender--
voted Car Of The Year by escaped convicts and serial killers)
glided like a crocodile toward our throbbing, imported taillights
and idled there. But when I approached the monster
alone--my other self was having none of this action--
what I found when the window inched down
was reality: a couple with a baby
asleep between them: country people
who still stop for anyone in trouble,
although they were wary. So was I,
squinting into the warm darkness in which they stirred
as if to the bottom of a moonlit pool,
as if what should surface nonetheless was a gun in my face.
They got back with a can of gas so fast
the whole event took about the time of a Howard Johnson hamburger,
and probably less time than a Howard Johnson hamburger off a life
in which it's almost impossible
not to feel blessed. How lucky we are,
we said on the smooth way home again,
trying to etch it into our brains.
At least I was, since we had ditched him back there

thumb out and grinning into the high beams of every approaching car
because this one's got to be the starlet in the Jaguar
wrapped in a mink with nothing underneath.

Michael Ryan has published three books of poems and an autobiography, Secret Life.

TODAY IN SLATE

History

The Self-Made Man

The story of America’s most pliable, pernicious, irrepressible myth.

The GOP Senate Candidate in Iowa Doesn’t Want Voters to Know Just How Conservative She Really Is

Does Your Child Have “Sluggish Cognitive Tempo”? Or Is That Just a Disorder Made Up to Scare You?

Naomi Klein Is Wrong

Multinational corporations are doing more than governments to halt climate change.

The Strange History of Wives Gazing at Their Husbands in Political Ads

Television

See Me

Transparent is the fall’s only great new show.

Doublex

Lena Dunham, the Book

More shtick than honesty in Not That Kind of Girl.

Rehtaeh Parsons Was the Most Famous Victim in Canada. Now, Journalists Can’t Even Say Her Name.

Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD

The XX Factor
Sept. 30 2014 12:34 PM Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD
Moneybox
Sept. 30 2014 12:04 PM John Hodgman on Why He Wore a Blue Dress to Impersonate Ayn Rand
  News & Politics
Politics
Sept. 30 2014 1:38 PM Mad About Modi
 Why the controversial Indian prime minister drew 19,000 cheering fans to Madison Square Garden.

  Business
Building a Better Workplace
Sept. 30 2014 1:16 PM You Deserve a Pre-cation The smartest job perk you’ve never heard of.
  Life
Education
Sept. 30 2014 1:48 PM Thrashed Florida State’s new president is underqualified and mistrusted. But here’s how he can turn it around.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 30 2014 12:34 PM Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 30 2014 11:42 AM Listen to Our September Music Roundup Hot tracks from a cooler month, exclusively for Slate Plus members.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 30 2014 12:42 PM How to Save Broken Mayonnaise
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 30 2014 11:55 AM The Justice Department Is Cracking Down on Sales of Spyware Used in Stalking
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 30 2014 7:30 AM What Lurks Beneath the Methane Lakes of Titan?
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 28 2014 8:30 PM NFL Players Die Young. Or Maybe They Live Long Lives. Why it’s so hard to pin down the effects of football on players’ lives.