Barbara Presnell

Papa Buys the Tin Lizzie on the Day Slim Returns

     
   

“I will build a car for the great multitude.”

                                                --Henry Ford

               
Slim brings home a limp

he got in France from shrapnel in his knee.

Flat tire, Papa calls it.

All you need is a little air. So he leaves his iron

and anvil in the shop, goes to Cox Motor Company,

hands over $480 cash, drives home a black

 

Model T Touring car, top folded back to a fan,

and says, Get in, boy. We’re going for a ride.

Slim lays his cane across the back seat,

steps in. He’s out of uniform and into

the old blue-checkered shirt Mama washed

and ironed when she heard he was coming.

 

I’m tired, he says. But I’ll take a short one.

April sun careens down, a breeze

grabs hold of Slim’s sleeve, flapping it

like a limb. They’re not yet out of town

when Papa peels away the jacket

of his Sunday wool suit, rolls cuffs to his elbows.

 

If there’d been a radio, it would have

been blasting. Instead, just air whistling in,

an occasional gnat, the rumble-bump of tires

on tar and gravel, dirt, and sometimes grass or field.

Papa stops in front of Julian Barnes’s corn,

gets out, stretches his legs, smokes.

 

Slim sits with the door open, stares

at the cows walking toward the fence,

moos at them a time or two, then says,

That’s enough. Let’s head home.

But Papa says, Not yet.

Out then beyond the county line

 

to a point where the Uwharrie opens so wide

all they see of the other side is the pinnacle of trees.

Catfish and yellow-green turtles splash the edges.

Dark is shifting in as they turn the Lizzie

toward the top of Shepherd’s mountain

and settle on the hillside. Sleep comes for Slim.

 

When he cries out or shakes with terrors

Papa holds him like when he was a boy sick with fever.

Then morning and the reveille of birds.

Papa says, Drive, and even though

Slim’s knee flames, he takes the wheel.

It’s mid-morning by the time the Model T pulls in.

 

Papa’s down to his undershirt, Slim’s old

blue-checkered is unbuttoned all the way.

His arm hangs around Papa’s shoulder,

the cane still in the back seat.

Two months later, Papa will change

the sign above his shop from Blacksmith

 

to Automobiles, learn the insides of an engine

like it’s the machine of his own body.

Boys home from war will buy them like cheap

cigarettes, crowding streets, pushing buggies

to the sides, smoking up and down roads.

After that first day, only Slim will drive the Lizzie.

 

Sometimes Papa will climb in beside him.

Or he’ll get in by himself, not come home

till morning. Sometimes for days.

That wood cane never will leave the back seat,

though finally it will slip beneath the cushions,

only now and then catching a splinter of light.

 

     
         
        return to poetry
 

Barbara Presnell’s poetry collection, Piece Work (CSU Poetry Center), won the Cleveland State University Poetry Center’s First Book Prize. Her work also appears in three award-winning chapbooks and in The Southern Review, Cimarron Review, Connotation Press, Prime Number, Women’s Realities, Women’s Choices and other journals and anthologies.She has received grant support from the North Carolina Arts Council, the Kentucky Arts Council, and the Kentucky Foundation for Women. As a documentary poet, she writes often of social and cultural change, particularly in the South.