Ode to V. Cook
1996

 

first

 

Oh, V. Cook I want you to know how much I need you

to remain in your booth on Exit 13 Mass Pike West. You

are my shining star my courteous squire who daily asks, how would you like it

and gives it to me in dimes or nickels as I choose. In my rear view

mirror I peek back at your hand‑off to other women and I ponder.

We have quality time, V. Cook, in our fifteen seconds daily

but you can't be faithful. Nor I, alas. Other toll‑booths

take my toll evenings eastward, and though I do not speak to them,

nevertheless our hands meet, and coin is exchanged.


 

second­­

 

I'm going to fly to L.A., to Miami, to good places where it's warm

as a car heater when you're not in the car; dangerous as crossing

the median line; lonely as you in your tollbooth chewing a morning

doughnut and directing havaniceday havaniceday 

to no matter who passes.

 

We're fellow travelers, we're seekers, V. Cook.

When I missed your warm hand for a week you had gone

to Aruba with your wife and teen‑age son. Tennis for him,  

your wife floated on glass‑bottom boats; you slept, ridding your ribs

of carbon monoxide. There's more to see than the toll‑booth,

you said when you woke, but the eight days were over.

     

May I bring you a souvenir? A jar of sand from the 

desert, or Pacific holy water? If it came from my fingers 

with the folded dollar bill, would you feel more 

at home than with your eyes closed, more soprano

than your wife's cry in sex, more bronze than your boy's 

young legs? V. Cook, if I squeezed the world

through the toll booth frame, would it seem real and satisfy?


 

third

 

When the getting-out-of-work

sky is smeared with clouds and color

the trees recede to silhouettes; 

lights leap to city‑scape.

    

V. Cook, do you know why I left the highway?

Your booth was the navel of the universe. I spun

round it like a yo‑yo playing "walk the dog".

I didn't like the trees. I only pretended

in the early spring when limey leaves 

appeared like new hairdos without ribbons.

I didn't really care for miles of photo‑blue

with dainty country clouds. I didn't, along the road in August,

really admire the rampant loosestrife.

I took the blows demurely but it was night I loved.

 

In the end, I got off. I parked my car at the curb

with For Sale signs on both sides. One day 

I removed all your coins from the driver's

pocket and shoved them into narrow slots

at the laundromat, getting my clothes clean when 

your fingerprints fell clanging in the money box.

    
 

four

 

My neighbor strings tiny bulbs in the foyer

where no one comes by car but

I think of transactions, of closed 

vehicles (a person with a package), flat smiles 

handed through slots like coin, happy holidays.

      

V. Cook, you're the one to whom I speak,

the one to whom I whisper

"the days are getting shorter,

my molars are breaking,

the world will never end; we continue here forever 

with no reason, waiting in the dark for teeth 

to fall out and be replaced by quarters." 

     

The booth under arc lights, in the center

of the highway hides you from me. On each side 

darkness pierces my eyes with dangerous 

points. I watch the side of the road as I've 

been taught. I watch gifts in the back seat

jump when I hit the brakes. I see 

the top package slide to the floor, 

leaving behind the scarlet bow like a slash. 

 

No gifts for you, V. Cook, no gifts for me. Only your elusive

hand coming toward me taking the little I know how to give:

two dimes and the quarter for my grandchild's six-year tooth.


 

five

 

Forgive me, V. Cook, send no hurricane

or nuclear war, spare my 

mother, rescue my child I beseech you.

    

I knew you wanted only

to push back the plastic, reach the outside

mirror on my car where your image loomed,

curved and dangerous 

as a truck on a hairpin down.

I never entered the toll‑booth.  

Forgive my inventing your wife and son.

 

If I need some tender hand to touch my face,

won't I seek a dentist?

Won't I hire a hairdresser to smooth my brow?

A chiropractor rubs my heart. In prayers I beg,

"CIA, watch me over and over

State Police guard me,

sea‑gulls cover my roof with clean white wings."

 

Look from the toll‑booth, V. Cook, with absolution;

forgive my lapse:  snatching your life like sperm

for a child you don't want.