‘Cuda

Yesterday, when you called me from where
They wring your body in rehabilitation,
And cried like static into the phone,
I wanted to say, this is not you anymore,

Forget your life as it is, let the receiver
Fall away as I do, summer, sandalled women
Along endless asphalt, black turf, glory again
Years ago, enough for both of us. Remember

How you used to swear there was nothing
Close, nothing that would ever shut you down,
Your `71 `Cuda, with its bored and blown
426 Hemi? Well, I believed you, racing

Alone all night in my bunk while our parents
Snored or tried to make another brother
Through the wafer-board walls. Rather
Than sleep I would listen for the chance

Screech and roar at an intersection
Rising somewhere from the gold sphere
Of mist that uptown became at night, sure
That it was you, and pretend I rode shotgun

Through that traffic of shadows, defending
Every stop light and woman on the boulevard
From the hated college boys whose lacquered
Foreign two-seaters were left finding

Second gear. Older, I cruised with you
And your girlfriends, smelled their beer
As perfume, watched you make them wet right there
On the leather seat; and I’m sorry now

I lied about my own nights, still a virgin
At sixteen when I followed you into
The mill. You said if there was any true
Likeness to the innards of an engine

In this world it was that place: metal dust
Searing as ash, arrow showers of sparks, booms
That swung and plunged while fires loomed
In vats; all day the roar ground us, a blast

Of steam down our throats, the world red hot,
Water cooled, sweat oiled. I know we’re both
Big, and you were bigger, with a bad mouth
And a good right, but when that plate hit

Your back, I knew you’d never walk again.
In the facility that you lived to loathe,
Where the spoon quivered each day to the mouth,
They claimed your hands might come back and then

Maybe your sex. Your wife wants children,
And you can’t stand to think she’ll bear
Only you, alive but miscarried somewhere
Inside yourself, the way that car you can

Never drive, sits eaten by rain out back
With half a tank of gas, and lets the weeds
Embrace it with slow ruin. Go on, you said,
Take it, and finally I did, for your sake,

But I won’t drive it. I still punch a clock
For the men born in white shirts and paisley
Ties, whose parted hair flutters in the AC
Of their offices. Their armpits used to reek

With real sweat under the exertion of facing me
While I helped all those adjusters and lawyers
Right the wrong, so you could lie for years
Totally snowed with Darvon. Sometimes I see

Their wives turn as I pass, to second the praise
Of my snug work clothes, the smell of Paris rising
From their breasts, because now that you’re nothing
I’m the one they take raw and finish with their eyes.

All their laughing smiles remind me of a night
When I raced beside you, loving the whiff
Of high octane that seemed to never wear off
Your skin. We waited by the black iron gates

Of the University, the supercharger you bolted on,
Simmering, until an Austin-Healey nosed the line
At the light. The driver flicked his thumb down
While his blonde shook her head and laughed. On green

You let him have a length, and then all
At once, so smoothly, so evenly, your foot
Bore down the throttle like a man who puts
His root inside a woman because they will

Never have anything else, your Firestones
Scorching in every gear, your hand tossing
The shifter as the drive train whooped in passing,
The sidepipes emptying like 12 gauge shotguns.

Shuddering with sheer torque, you sucked the chase
Right out of them. But pulling up at the light,
They were still laughing. They just sat
And loved it because they didn’t care, because

They didn’t give a goddamn what a true-
Run, boost-snorting, big block motor could do.

                                                             —David Moolten

32 comments
  1. Irene said:

    David, this narrative poem is totally engaging. It’s got a lot of emotive power. I see what you mean — it’s so real we assume it’s confessional on some level. But the fictionalised narrator I do not assume to be you even if you’re using the first person. That shouldn’t give you too much angst.

    • davidmoolten said:

      Thanks for the vote of confidence Irene. I don’t know how many times I heard from people that I’d crossed a line with this. It’s good to hear that not everyone thinks a first person narrator is the poet unless otherwise indicated.

  2. Derrick said:

    Hello David,

    There is certainly a lot of powerful and personal imagery here, I can well understand people thinking it biographical. One thinks there is bound to be an element of truth, of experience. There is relief and a tinge of sadness to realise the lie.

    • davidmoolten said:

      Thanks Derrick,

      There is an element of experience, just not first hand. I’ve known people quite closely who had hard working lives. The fabrication was in assuming their identity rather than just portraying them. I found that immediacy created more power, and I couldn’t resist it.

  3. I got so engrossed in this poem I found myself tearing up, and then remembered it wasn’t true! Every piece of it is beautifully described and realized, and has so many layers to it…terrific!

    • davidmoolten said:

      Thanks for the kind words Cynthia,

      I’m glad you were pulled in by the fictional details and yet not disappointed in the end.

  4. David, this is an excellent piece of work. I read your explanation at RWP no the writing process for the poem. Unfortunately, people who do not understand the mechanism or the woven threads in much of the poetry written have no concept of allegory or metaphor. If someone were to read all my poetry, I’m 66 and have been writing since I was twelve, and believed the words preserved on paper would find an unbelievable life. They would be right in their perception. Imagined or not, I could identify with your thoughts (even though I am now the patriarch in my family, no big brother to contemplate). Maybe those of us who practice the art are in reality poetic visionaries. Our dreams and interpretation of life do not have to be real to be relevant. They have only to be written! It is up to the reader to draw the influence and consequences through their own frame of reference. Belief is the framework of reality,most poets work in the diaphanous realm of imagination. Thanks for this work. I thoroughly enjoyed your intellect.
    Regards,
    DH

    • davidmoolten said:

      Donald,

      Thanks for your perceptions and perspective. I agree with you completely when you say “Our dreams and interpretation of life do not have to be real to be relevant. They have only to be written!,” very well stated. I think a great deal of this is recent tradition (oxymoronic as that sounds). The assumption of confession I think follows the trending towards that sort of poetry in the late 50s and 60s (Lowell, Plath, etc;). If one goes back, one finds a good bit of invention with the first person voice. One also finds some confessional things as well of course. But I think it’s gotten harder to be unrestrained in the first person voice simply as a matter of convention. Perhaps that can be resisted.

  5. I am reminded of BH Fairchild’s Early Occult Memory Sstems of the Lower Midwest. And from me, that is high praise indeed. Very strong poetic narrative.

    I particularly love this sentence:

    Your wife wants children,
    And you can’t stand to think she’ll bear
    Only you, alive but miscarried somewhere
    Inside yourself, the way that car you can

    Never drive, sits eaten by rain out back
    With half a tank of gas, and lets the weeds
    Embrace it with slow ruin.

    Wow!
    _____

    Paul Oakley
    Blogging his ReadWritePoem poems at
    Inner Light, Radiant Life

    • davidmoolten said:

      Thanks so much Paul. I like BH Fairchild quite a bit as well, am partial to “The Art of the Lathe, ” especially Beauty and Body and Soul.

  6. nathan said:

    “Gold sphere of mist” is just one of the many beautiful moments in this piece. Wonderful work.

    • davidmoolten said:

      Thanks Nathan,

      I am grateful for your read and for the praise.

    • davidmoolten said:

      Thank you Jeeves.

  7. Rarely do I assume writing to be truth but see it as experience intertwined and re-braided to be enjoyed, re-read and to induce a bit of memory/wish to the reader. This piece is strong and full of reference to icons that bring thoughts spilling from the past. Sweet.

    • davidmoolten said:

      Thank you. I like your take on writing “…experience intertwined and re-braided to be enjoyed, re-read and to induce a bit of memory/wish to the reader.” Well put.

  8. The fiction of this poem was very real for me. It pulled me in from its opening lines, and never let go. Great detail and emotion throughout, giving it a very authoritative voice. I love it.

    • davidmoolten said:

      Thank you Francis,

      I’m glad the poem succeeded in spite of the liberties taken with what was my own experience, and what was the experience of people I knew.

  9. There are a lot of powerful lines in here, but it was the second one that really struck me–“They wring your body in rehabilitation,” is just so accurate, stark, and new.

    • davidmoolten said:

      Thanks so much Elizabeth.

  10. David, I am swooning and snapping here. I LOVED this piece — your use of language, how vivid and descriptive your images were, the emotion evoked from this piece. At this point, I really don’t care about the fact or fiction quality of the piece. I would love to hear this read out loud. I’d have to say my favorite lines were: “Your wife wants children./And you can’t stand to think she’ll bear/Only you, alive but miscarried somewhere/Inside yourself,”. AWESOME! Thank you for sharing with us.

    -Nicole

  11. davidmoolten said:

    Nicole,

    I’m thrilled that you were this affected by the poem. Thanks for reading it and commenting so extensively. As for hearing it aloud, there actually is a video player on my blog–I made a fairly simple slide show video for ‘Cuda a while back.

  12. wayne said:

    Im not good with words….but i concur with DH…dam your good with words

    • davidmoolten said:

      Thanks Wayne,

      I appreciate it.

  13. Deb said:

    “Forget your life as it is, let the receiver/ Fall away as I do, …”

    I did, reading this. Like any good fiction, this pulls together believable details (I’m too damn close to the age of that ‘Cuda’s “experience”), and brings the reader in to care: brothers, wife/love, impotence, class: all gather emotions in a short and evocative epic.

    Thanks for bringing this to the RWP community!

  14. davidmoolten said:

    Thanks Deb. And thanks for providing the topic, which really fit one of the issues I’d been dealing with internally as a poet.

  15. I grew up on the outskirts of a rust-belt town in the 70s and 80s. You captured that muscle-car culture very well, I think.

    • davidmoolten said:

      Thanks Dave. While I don’t have a brother, and never worked in a steel mill, I was adopted by the “motor heads” at my high school, and even inherited my mother’s barracuda when she bought a new car. It wasn’t the monster in the poem (it had a 318 small block V-8) but I did put headers, glass pack mufflers and white letter tires on the car and burn a lot of gasoline driving around aimlessly.

  16. Wow. That was masterful. Especially loved the off-handedness of “Snored or tried to make another brother.”

    • davidmoolten said:

      Hi Joanne,

      Thanks for “taking the poem for a spin” and for your praise.

  17. Therese said:

    A sweeping tragedy in the tradition of visceral, working-class realism — the solidarity of two brothers, the class conflicts, the sexual mores, the gritty pits of labor, the rivalries of young men, the mythic Cuda car. In this poem steeped in masculinity, the hero is emasculated, both literally and metaphorically — crushed within the innards, the engine, of the mine, killed by the very machinery he loves. Terrible, unbearable ironies. Even though I have no brothers or sons to provide me with first-hand knowledge, I believed every word of this tale, and I was deeply moved by the sad story.

    • davidmoolten said:

      Therese,

      Thanks for taking the time to come back to this and to write such insightful commentary. This poem, despite the tangent it takes away from my own life-experience, has somehow figured importantly for me in my writing life, and perhaps on others levels as well. I appreciate your thoughts.

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