I can feel myself winnowing
to some rudimentary figment, as when
the distinction no longer quite holds
between that Edsel
and a beached hunk of carrion,
its vertical grille a baleen O mouthing
the intertidal wash where, canted on a shelf,
it leaned toward deeper water. I found it
at ebb tide, wallowing in a cradle of mud,
its outlandish flukes
luxuriating in rust, the backseat grotto
sickened in a lime green brine
like antifreeze. The headlights refracted
sunlight as though the whole wattage
of them might soon come alive again
as something else in the surf. What luck it is
to become something else, I thought,
as the pools sizzled, and in a constellation
of swirling ephemera the car
shed the vestigial hulk of its former life.
Strange, too, to find permanence so swayed,
hung on a precipice where manatees
became mermaids in sailors’ diaries.
A different weather daily washed in and out of its salt bed,
rinsing and rinsing the dead until
a storm at high tide would send it drifting
down past the manta ray and the striped flash
of pilot fish, below eddies of plankton
and the serene coasting of a shark
until it settled, I could only imagine,
into that kingdom of bioluminescence
into which no light would come
but that an angler willed
into recesses of camouflaged splendor
like so many day-glo stars.
Is that what an afterlife amounts to?
It could have been otherwise. Who knows
who first drove the car into the reeds,
fish-nosed and punished about the sides,
or how many days and nights it stood
a whistling house of wind before
the pocked doorways burst into coral.
For years it idled behind its nowhere engine,
barnacled and water-brindled,
at most a scow, shipwrecked with blight,
while a breeze, stubborn as a ghost,
nudged the wheel a little left, a little right.
It was a crime the way our neighbor hitched that appaloosa
to a tractor chassis and let it buck for hours before it broke,
vaulting four high over the sodden trestle.
Chelle and I watched it hurtle to the river
to drink, its slung back a hammock of horn flies.
Then the dog hauled after it
and we had to hustle up the scree when the cry
went out like a door sheared off its hinges.
We found the dog writhing with jaw kicked apart
and had to pour him into a wheelbarrow.
I brought the Buick around and from wheelbarrow
to backseat the dog’s whine went shrill.
Then, in less than a mile, the car sputtered dead.
We sat listening. Don’t start too, I said
but Chelle’s crying had already braided with the dog’s,
a gaping, guttural rhythm passing between them
that sent me to the trunk for the crowbar.
I looked only long enough to understand
where best to hit. I turned the dog’s face
to the floor and Chelle kept her eyes
on the distant tree line. One swing
and the two cries unbraided. Then I lifted
the new weight from the car, wrapped
in my coat, and walked it home. Its scent
filled the circle the appaloosa had worn
into the dirt. Gentling itself for hours,
it seemed sure only of where not to be.