Ode to V. Cook
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.