Shifting Gears

Shifting Gears

Sun drifts behind the hills
like a lonely traveler
packing light.
Staring after him,
I stand next to mom
shading my eyes to see how long
he walks horizon’s trail –
his image shrinks and frays.

I try to imagine where Dad is,
what road –
if he’s passed the Wonder Bread factory
or if he’s closer to the Sonoma Mall.
Or maybe he hasn’t even reached the horse ranch yet.

“What time is it?” I ask,
knowing it’s past 5,
climbing into the front seat
and letting my question fade.

The minutes pool. Thirty.
I’d collect them if I could
the way people collect rainwater
in rusty buckets
-use it for another garden –
but I don’t carry a bucket
for lost time.

And when the gravel pops
under Dad’s tires,
the killed engine shifts a hard wind.
In the silence I hear
my brother’s headphones
like a soft, erratic heartbeat.
thumps without pause.

Dad spits a used wad of chewing tobacco
into a white coffee mug.
He doesn’t know he’s late. He brought skittles.
I close my arms around his mint skoal,
cologne –
and somewhere deep in me,
I feel the flicker I turn off
whenever we leave him.

We transfer our things
to the pickup.
My brother on the right.
Dad hops in, swigs water,
spits it out the open door
dumping the sludge like dirty laundry
onto the warm pavement.

In the middle of the truck cab
I am the smallest,
strattling the knob,
waiting for Dad to shift gears.


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