Tow Truck Poetry
I was sitting on the front hill a few years later when Duke pulled up, still driving his old tow truck. “Hey,” he called.
I walked over to the passenger window. “Hey, Duke.”
“What you doing?”
“Come on. Get in.”
“Sure.” It was early evening and the sun was setting. Duke just got out of jail, after serving six months for parole violation. I climbed in and looked over at him. The sky was bronze behind his profile. He pulled away from the hill and turned left down the side street.
“Your parents are cool to me,” he said.
“Huh? Oh, I guess they’re alright.”
“Not like these fuckers.” He motioned toward the neighborhood.
“Yeah, well…I told ‘em I’d look after you. So you let me know if anyone fucks with you.” He stopped at the corner.
“Ok, Duke.” He told me that a million times. But it still felt special. He punched the accelerator and threw me back against the seat. The tow truck roared from the stop in a cloud of blue smoke.
The truck was dirty and cluttered with fast food wrappers, empty beer cans, and tow receipts. The dashboard was gray and black from a fire a few years back, and the truck smelled like piss and burned clothing. But mostly it just smelled like Duke.
“What’s this?” I asked, grabbing a book from the dash.
“I don’t know. What is it?” He glanced over.
“It’s a book. Looks like poetry.”
“Huh?” He looked again at the book. “Huh. Wonder where that came from.”
“Huh,” I said, thumbing the pages.
“Well Little Mad Mann,” he never stopped calling me that, and it was a badge of honor, “read me a poem.”
“Huh?” I slapped the book shut and threw it on the dash. “I ain’t reading no sappy love poems.”
He looked at me and smiled, “Don’t be afraid of the unknown. You don’t know what you’re missing.” He always said shit like that when no one was around. “Besides,” he said nodding toward the poetry book, “they ain’t all sappy.”
I looked at him for a moment. He nodded toward the book again. “Go ahead,” he whispered, like he was sharing a secret. I picked up the book and flipped the pages until I found one that was folded. I unfolded the page. There was a penciled note at the top, “Thank you.”
“Someone wrote on this one.”
“Yeah? Read that one.”
“Ok. It’s called ‘Music Box Art’ or something, by someone named Auden:
About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer’s horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.
In Brueghel’s Icarus for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.
When I finished I looked at Duke. He had a strange glow on his face and was staring straight ahead. When he realized I was watching he snapped out of it and said, “Wow.”
“Yeah…, wow.” I closed the book and looked at the cover, flipped it over. “Is this yours?”
“Naw. Someone left it here. One of my tows.” He thought for a moment. “That teacher. Towed her last week. English teacher at the college. It was a AAA over in Ruxton. Dead battery. Turned out to be her alternator. I towed her to the shop. Then gave her a ride to Towson. Kept saying she liked tow trucks. Beautiful bitch. Great voice. Said she was going to be late for poetry class…Yeah,” he said nodding his head, “must have been her. Man was she hot. What was her name?” He tapped his forehead with his fist. “What the fuck was her name? Nice name. Melodic.”
“Melodic?” I looked at him and chuckled.
“Yeah, you know, it sings. Sounds good. Oh man, what was her name: Belinda, Miranda, something like that. Fuck it.”
Duke pulled into the lot at Hill’s Liquors. “I’ll be right back. I gotta make a call.” He got out and walked to the pay phone on the corner. I read another poem while I waited. A moment later he got back in the truck with a six pack of beer. “Here, want one?”
Duke pulled the tab off of his and raised it in a toast, “To dying useless.” He upended it, took a huge drink.
“I said,” he raised the beer again for another toast, “to Dye and Ices.”
He nodded at the poetry book still sitting in my lap, then held up the beer one more time, “To Dionysus.” I still didn’t understand, but I drank anyway. It burned my throat going down and it tasted bitter, but it sure felt cool. Duke finished his after the third guzzle. He crushed the can on his leg and tossed it out the window into the back of the truck. I looked back and saw a pile of empties.
“That’s what I was looking for.” I turned to see what Duke was talking about. We were passing the back side of the cemetery when he slowed the tow truck and pulled off the road behind two people on the shoulder. “I know that ass,” he said, squinting through the dirty windshield. He leaned out the window, “Hey Gina.” She looked back at the tow truck.
“Fuck you, Duke.” She flipped him the finger and snapped her head forward.
“I’m sorry, Baby,” he called. “I was drunk.” He crept along behind them. “I forgot I was picking you up last night,” he yelled out the window. “Come on, Baby,” and under his breath, “come blow me, bitch.” That made me laugh. He turned and winked at me.
“You’re a fucker, man.” I thought she was talking to me, since that’s my name. But she was looking and sneering at Duke.
“Come on, Baby. Come here.”
She stopped, dropped her shoulders and turned toward the truck. The guy with her followed.
Gina looked at her feet as she walked to Duke’s side of the truck. When she looked up she had a glare on her face. Then she smiled and punched him on his arm hanging out the window, “You’re a dick. Don’t you ever fucking leave me at work again. That place sucks. Fucking Pizza Hut.”
“I’m sorry, Baby. You know how it is,” he smiled at her, “my little pizza slut.”
“Fuck you. This is my cousin Joe.” He was younger than her, but a little older than me. He was wearing torn jeans and a leather jacket. His hair was long brown and messy, and his eyes were black and wild. He looked like a small version of Duke. I think Duke noticed, too, because he laughed a little when he looked over at Joe and said, “Hey.”
Joe said “Hey” and looked through the cab at me. “Don’t I know you?”
“Yeah, school. How’s it going?”
“Cool.” And we both nodded our heads. Then Joe put his hands in his jacket and started kicking the curb with his boot, and I sat flipping through the poetry book while Duke talked shit to Gina and grabbed at her ass out the window.