Ode to a Man in a White Minivan by Anna Bernstein
I think of you now as a kind of Prometheus
who, on his way to bring fire to humanity,
stopped to pick up a hitchhiker on a corner who had no plan to get home.
I saw first the brim of your hat past a windshield
then a child’s car seat in the back, plasticky toys, juice boxes
I notice from the passenger seat that your cheeks
go very round when you laugh, which is often,
even while you explain that your job in HVAC
(just H now) is boring as hell. I say
I go to college. Probably neither of us are lying.
At some point the words “a beautiful girl like you”
are said, already at speed down the highway,
and when you see last night’s fear reignite on my face
you understand immediately
what you’ve done. You apologize. You didn’t mean to make me
uncomfortable, long pause. Not why I picked you up.
Would’ve still if you were ugly. After all. Long pause.
It’s cold outside. You said it sad. No non sequitur or small talk
not two strangers sharing brisk air at a bus stop on the first real day of fall
it is twenty below on the sidewalks. The wind howls it down to thirty at corners
and you of all people know that what you have
is precious: a little bundle of heat, to reheat my own.
You get a text from someone named Priya. My wife, you say.
The car slips down the highway on all the ice in Minnesota.
Could you text her that—
long pause again. Right pause to laugh in. We both do.
Could you text her that I had to run a sudden errand?
And. Pause. Could you text her that I’ll explain later. I believe you.
And it is fine if in your explanation I am fourteen, or male,
or a fourteen-year-old male, or an old woman.
Everyone in this car knows there are things
it is fine not to say. There are after all these rawer parts of flesh
that perhaps should not be looked at directly by the queasy-hearted,
or opened and stung with antiseptic by the ruthlessly pragmatic;
just left alone
to heal over, well enough, in darkness, in dimness,
only a little gravel under the wound,
in the lull of dinner in the evening,
in the juice staining your son’s fingers, in your wife’s hum over legal documents,
in your balanced shrug, your I-got-home-fine-don’t-worry,
(said to friends who will never quite realize
just how wrong a place they left you),
in a white minivan, on the side of an icy road,
where no one asks for origin; only destination.
Anna Bernstein is an undergraduate student at Macalester College where she studies English and Arabic. She’s had fiction published in Litro NY and poetry in Inch. She currently lives in Brooklyn, like everyone else who grew up in Manhattan. She has a cat with half an ear and a baffling sense of purpose.