The Erotics of Men, Women and Cars (A Synopsis), poems by Ken Meisel
Ken Meisel is a poet and psychotherapist from the Detroit area. He is a 2012 Kresge Arts Literary Fellow, Pushcart Prize nominee, and the author of Mortal Lullabies (FutureCycle Press: 2018), The Drunken Sweetheart at My Door (FutureCycle Press: 2015), Scrap Metal Mantra Poems (Main Street Rag: 2013), Beautiful Rust (Bottom Dog Press: 2009.) His work in over 100 national magazines including Rattle, Midwestern Gothic, Concho River Review, San Pedro River Review, Origins Journal, The Bookends Review, Muddy River Poetry Review, Pirene’s Fountain, Lake Effect.
The Erotics of Men, Women and Cars
Men choose women like they select
their cars. They look for beauty,
for sexy seating and for a smoothness
of fit. Woman choose their men
like they choose their cars. They desire
some perfectible durability in their driveway,
some dependability with a power drive.
Contrary to history, men and women
want it all new. Every single time.
And they long to awaken within themselves,
between two bucket seats of a car –
say, a 64’ Pontiac, its fierce lynx face,
and its long rectangular bronze fire pose
driving fast as a bullet to the edge of a ridge.
Cars, men and women seek open road,
some diorama where infinity can be sought.
Some animated light where – in the dark –
they can turn on their lovelights.
Dial up their radios and listen to tunes
like Whole Lotta Love or Unchained Melody
or even Turn on Your Love Light
while they oppose and collect each other
into that hot intentionality of lust and passion.
Men adore their women’s curves
like they lust after car fenders. Some demure
curving, where they can run hard hands over.
Women love their men for what kind
of transmission they can bring.
Some hot seed of loyalty, with moveable
gears, like a power drive transmittal of heart.
Women want a dude and a viewpoint:
a car that lasts over the long haul. That drives
forward, into every creative circumstance.
We’re just gear and valve body; we’re
action and momentum. Men and women
are like two complimentary elements –
they don’t belong to the same highway.
An artist drew them here, to hitchhike.
Thumbs out, eager eyes looking, waiting.
And, in some convertible, top down,
they haul on, a set of sovereign wheels –
into that inevitable sprawl of grace.
1971 Gran Torino (Young Boys into Men)
– for Jeff Poleno
Rust-colored to resemble a gun’s bullet,
this Gran Torino – so packed with boys
not ready yet to be men – rolled
torpid and hot down Lahser Road,
the radio, jacked up and booming
loud with Kung Fu Fighting
and one of us hauling off, punching
the other for missing just one word.
What makes a boy proud to be alive?
To be only what he is, and nothing else?
Inside the car’s engine, worlds roared
and sputtered. We’d watch the belts
spiral around like transported filament
or a future, becoming triumphant,
as each one of us, silent in our self,
worried how we’d drive on, away.
Wired, we’d clip on, pumping out
what songs we had to be powerful,
while the happy summer night
danced and faded in zest and imagery.
Laughter defended us against those
unaccustomed inner thoughts –
those that broke us, ever so slightly,
and turned us aslant, guarded with
each other. And the ineffable, always
hiding within the car’s smooth contour,
flirted worse than the girls with us,
and we’d start drinking to stave it off.
And once, when my friend told me
he’d made a decision for himself,
I knelt down to pull dead grasshoppers
from the front grill, hiding my sorrow.
And the girls that ended up with us
wore small hoop earrings, and they
dug themselves down and good into us.
Pretended to extol religious imagery
as they broke themselves wide open.
Maybe infatuation hides a deeper valor,
and we practice it, this infatuation,
until valor, like an inner torque, finds
a way in. Do we catch this, via a car?
Maybe the road is where the idea
of sacrifice and bravery captures us –
turns us into men inside a car made
of perfume and glazed light and a girl’s
soft, clementine skin, her sweet mouth
full of sex and innocence and risk.
When I kissed her, she went dark,
and pulled my hands all over her
in a fervor. Then later, after we left,
inside that car I held a boy as he cried,
leaving for the Navy. Never more
did I love a boy so brave and true
1957 Chevrolet 150 Two Door Sedan
– for Dale Batsford
Surf Green and dusty, and quietly retired in a one-door
garage shaded by massive oak trees on the tired,
faithless end of Detroit’s far west side, the Chevy
was box-shaped, with a hawkish set of headlights
glaring above an over-confident front grill that wore
chrome lips that mouthed the famous GM emblem –
ensconced like a racing medal in the center – and
a set of embedded metal rockets, cut into its hood.
And, those explicit, fierce, cut angled rear tailfins
that imitated a set of shark fins so that when you
ran your fingers across them, you could feel the car’s
hard metallic edge, and the style by which it sliced
the air above it as it soared forward; no wonder it
was the year’s top hot rod. No wonder, when Dale
told us brothers that it was stored in his grandfather’s
garage, that I pushed and pushed to get us into it.
What is a car that understands its own possibilities
and its physical limits? That becomes philosophical,
anthropomorphic, like it’s some unlimited metal
and chrome-adorned in-line six cylinder personage –
motorized by improvisation and by brute force?
We boys idolized it, like we’d glorify an athlete.
Heidegger: A work of art makes public something
other than itself: it is an allegory. A thing-in-itself.
Barthes: cars today are almost the exact equivalent
of great Gothic Cathedrals; conceived in passion;
driven by a population that appropriates them
as a magical object. Well, that old man – Dale’s
grandfather, Sidney, in the silent dust of his home,
didn’t even realize what kind of art object he had.
I’d stand there, star-struck at the open garage door,
in some instrumental grasp of art: American art.
The quiet men who designed this car from clay
must have had some intimate knowledge of death
and eternity: they must have fought with sin –
with loam and silt – and they must have faced
death on an eerie two-lane highway, and shaped
an authentic thing. Isn’t that the ceremony, of art?
Some recessed corner of me knew I was hungry
for the liturgy – the rite – of American auto art.
We’d stand there, hands around a transistor radio,
mouthing the lyrics to Alice Cooper’s I’m Eighteen.
We all thought by listening to it, that song, we’d be it,
forever. That we’d abolish the fixed boundaries.
All I could dream about was getting into that car’s
front seat, and hauling my boyhood into a man.
And, when Sidney let us boys finally drive it,
I slipped behind the big, curved steering wheel,
and I departed down the road in it, in a kind
of frenzied madness, demanding a sliced corner
of the road and track’s little cosmos for myself.
A sculpture by Henri Moore? Something static?
No, a torch in the dark opening of the world –
where right on through it we drove, madly alive.
1953 Chevrolet (Proposal)
His first car, a 53’ Chevrolet.
The front end boasted fierce chrome fret work
and two massive, wide awake head lights.
Dinah Shore called it “a glamorous new star,”
about the prettiest one she’d ever saw.
Woodland Green, it stole the night’s parade.
Its three-speed manual transmission
and a rounded roof line made it seem
elegant, serene. The big dashboard glowed
like an altar in a chapel. In the front seat
of the car – behind the steering column –
they sat together, under a bed
of dandelion stars and the whole universe’s
sweeping glacial stream.
Owls hooted in the silhouetted trees
and far off, they could listen to the night’s
hallucinatory meridians, parting the clouds.
The song, Sentimental Journey, drifted in
and out of the night’s angelic, lawless signal.
One star glistened on the hood ornament.
Love – because it is a large bird with big eyes –
disappeared and let these two small
human starlings do their very best.
When he asked for her hand in marriage,
she followed him like a bird, accepting his
solo line of flight. In the twilight glaze,
her wedding ring resembled a silver meteor.
Her eyes sparkled like champagne.
Her soft lips, reddened, rose to kiss him.
Some part of what was wild in him,
thick with jazz, quieted; it went dormant
like a vireo’s call. Just like it always does –
when you sit beside the prettiest damn
song bird you ever saw.
1974 Ford LTD Brougham (Divorce)
Sky Blue, he’d purchased it shortly after he crashed
the 72’ Ford. Its continuous grill expanded wide
through the car’s face, and it framed the dual head lights.
And the tasteful rear end too, was an embankment
of red lights that squared into the main tail lights –
and in the center, a nice stenograph LTD. Ford
even ran a thin aluminum line down the contour –
like the old days. The year they divorced – after so
long married – he figured consolation separates us
from affliction, and so he moved to Florida, and she
moved on with her life, clear sighted, with a little
peace in grabbing what was left of the everything,
even though she’d have to work to make a living.
Readied, we drove him down to Florida, the car like
one thread left over from two souls breaking free
of attachment. What is it, to separate from love?
If prayer incorporates one thing in the many, than to be
sad is to fling away what was inside, out again, to be
rid of it: like an arrow flung away by the archer.
Maybe love’s archer stows his arrows and, until it
ends, love’s languor, he keeps flinging them inside two
until – at last – one arrow misses the other person,
and love, so green, yellows, and the arrow flies out
and down into stones, into lax water, or mud cake.
We drove through Florida, found the silver sea.
Heard Patsy Cline’s, I Fall to Pieces as we drove
him to his doorstep. And we called her up north –
to tell her we’d arrive again to her, in one piece.