Veering

(by Daniel R. Jones)

I’ve grown fond of the front seat
where I’ve seen you sitting countless nights
ringing out raindrops from a Frogg Togg,
muttering obscenities about the cold.

You’ve sat in that same seat
flicking cherries off the end of your Newport,
singing along to Styx on the stereo
humming through the lines you don’t know.

It was only when the frequency cut out that I realized
just how off-key you were.
You always drove in a straight-line.
I never sensed you were veering.

Your friends warned me you were a fiend.
They said to stay away.
But still we cried together
when your rib disowned you.

She had a sneaking suspicion:
her hero in league with dealers of heroin.
You swore she was overreacting.
But as I watched you drive
I noticed you were veering.

When you lost custody of your son
the part-time prophets
came out of the woodwork.
Even amateur oracles prophesied your death:

He’s a junkie, they said.
He’s riding high on a horse’s back.
And behind the wheel,
I trembled at your veering.

But tonight’s the night
you’d crash the car.
You came through the driver’s side door
with a full arm and empty eyes.

Slurred words and blurred vision.
The smell of burnt rubber.
Passed out at the wheel,
you can’t hear me yelling.

When you come to,
you won’t even admit
you were veering.

The “Check Engine” is on.
You’re running on fumes,
the seatbelt hanging uselessly by your side.
Still, you insist on the driver’s seat.

I’m in the passenger seat
waiting
as always
to take the wheel for you.