In my line of work, I have to know a little about cars. Enough at least to talk to a mechanic or body man without being laughed out of the shop. And enough to know what it is that’s broken on a car that’s more usefully descriptive than “that little red piece next to the black piece that kind of has a little curve in it.”
But cars are more to us than their clearly labeled parts. Cars are about image, and which ones they conjure for us. And they are about memory, and the ones that a certain car or truck helped us create, whether for good or bad.
It’s no surprise, then, that cars have made their way into many a poem. We’ve gathered up 10 great car and truck poems, including the one that blames my late arrival to poetry on a vintage Grand Marquis (because cars are also good for taking the blame for things).
1. No More Same Old Silly Love Songs
When the radio in my car broke I started to notice the trees.
I began to stop exaggerating the color of leaves,
how their reds and oranges needed no wordy embellishment.
I started to open the window and smell the wet pavement.
after morning rain. Crows on the phone line,
their blackness and stubborn dignity. I even noticed my hands
gripping the wheel, the small dark hairs, the skin,
the knuckles and the perfect blue veins.
Neil Carpathios, from Beyond the Bones
2. ’93 Ford Ranger
I promise I will get your truck back
the red one we sold
after I accidentally drowned
it. That water was deeper than it looked.
I know who bought it—the guy.
He said he could fix it up.
I know where he lives. Not far.
you need to come home. I’m not
driving the distance by myself in the middle of winter.
Just send word. Somehow I’ll get you those keys.
— Megan Willome, author of The Joy of Poetry
3. When he pulled through with a new Chevy in red
we fell into the night
we fell into time
tugging at denim as he pushed towards the hood,
those jeans never looked so good.
— Taylor Burgin, from Casual: A Little Book of Jeans Poems & Photos
4. SRV in the Parking Lot at the Quick Stop
light coming up
with the radio—
Lenny’s here, really here.
Do you cry
when you play her,
where the fret moves into the music box
I dance inside,
sometimes I risk it driving—
bow my head and shake
where the clear notes sound tenor up the neck,
bass in a tin can like a kick
Margarine for my sweetheart, butter me—
whiskey’s too early, but those cigarettes
sleep in my heart like a snare vibrating
in the red rising sky like it’s all I’ve got left.
Here now, people come and go,
Lenny loud low, lingering me in the parking lot—
I can’t leave you like this radio,
staring into the space behind the world,
fingers walking like these vagabond birds—
not for sweet love or even neat coffee.
— Richard Maxson, from How to Read a Poem
5. Return to Sloansville
I close my eyes,
blot out one hundred
and fifty shale driveways
pickup trucks, Ford
pintos, trailers barely
tied to this ground
by wires, gas lines
I can still see
dirt road, Queen
Anne’s Lace, goldenrod
field mice nesting
under leaning timothy
and the apple orchard
rooted beyond tall firs
where a woman
in navy sweat pants
and red Budweiser t-shirt
is just now hanging laundry
to drift upon the wind,
sing with ghosts
of spring white
—L.L. Barkat, from InsideOut
There were pennies in the urinals by midnight
which meant armando was somewhere in the bar.
It changed my heart badly to see them. I had been
dancing with Caitlin very skillfully and now I was
only looking forward to the back door.
My buddy Vernon found me and said,
“You’re out of here. I seen him.”
summer was over. everybody knew the warning
and avoided pennies all over town. It was better to overpay
than get involved with copper coins. I walked the
gravel parking lot alone hoping my truck windows
weren’t broken. It was cold and tonight would try for first frost.
I’m not alone in this: hating change.
—Ron Carlson, from Room Service
7. 15 | Almost Confident
I never knew white lingered
in the gold. Like that time I made off
for Chicago while you dumped cattle
into the south ten. I broke down
somewhere past Wrigley in a snowstorm
that dusted our Black Angus but stranded me
in the Chevy for days. Opening truck doors
sprayed snow into my hair like the time
we woke at dawn the first week on the farm,
and flakes slid off the roof and lanced our eyes.
When Rothko painted fifteen,
he snaked our love story inside his wrists
only to let go like so much breath
launched on Ozark winter mornings—
the steam rises as wispy wood smoke,
almost confident it’s alive.
—Dave Malone, from View from the North Ten
8. Fallow Field
The old car is there,
where she left it,
out by the old shed,
from the roadway by the rye grass
that grows up all around.
Long triangular tentacles
blowing and bending
in the hot breeze, as
through gathering clouds.
By now the grass has worked
up into the engine block.
is planted now,
in this fallow field,
They call this grass
“poverty grain, ” and there’s
no small comfort in the fact
that it’s as tolerant
of poor soils
as she was of her marriage.
On the day she left,
she packed her whole life
into an old grip: clothing,
of the children, her parents,
the salt cellar she’d bought
on her honeymoon in Rome.
While packing, she’d given
pause that her whole life
had become so
portable, where once there’d
been permanence. And now,
she blows and bends—
rye grass on a midsummer afternoon.
—Scott Edward Anderson, from Fallow Field
9. Red Whistles at the Wolf
Red, Red’s riding in the hood
scarf on her head
lady looking good
Red, Red’s driving in the hood
lady’s in a rush
tight dress red
retro retro red red red
Red, Red’s cruising in the hood
white hubcapped wheels
bringing those meals
Red, Red’s speeding in the hood
in her red-finned missile
gives the wolf a whistle
Red, Red’s roaring in the hood
wolf takes a jump
becomes a speed bump
Red, Red’s slowing in the hood
wolf’s now dead
don’t mess with Red
— Glynn Young, author of Poetry at Work
10. An Adjuster in the Midst of Delinquency
He waited 92 years to confront
an 18-wheeler in his path, then drove
his crumpled Grand Marquis
into the night. I chased after,
couldn’t see for the shadows
and the trees so cried out at the top
of my small voice,
“Old man! I need from you
only a tardy slip.
I am late for poetry.”
— LW Lindquist
Photo by Jason Pratt, Creative Commons license via Flickr.
How to Write a Poem uses images like the buzz, the switch, the wave—from the Billy Collins poem “Introduction to Poetry”—to guide writers into new ways of writing poems. Excellent teaching tool. Anthology and prompts included.
“How to Write a Poem is a classroom must-have.”
—Callie Feyen, English Teacher, Maryland