Thursday, January 08, 2009

Rubberneck

I'm rather cheerful at the moment so this bleak little piece is incongruous, but I've only just got round to tinkering it into some sort of shape. Driving along the North Devon Link Road after Christmas I passed a horrible car wreck and this is about that. It doesn't rhyme, sorry.

Rubberneck

People cannot help themselves.
Half-awake, hurtling in convoy
through Exmoor’s Christmas frosted fields,
A tin toy snuggled against a tree ahead

is a sports car screwed into the base of a tree
in frost-stiffened grass, scrunched Christmas paper,
three constables shuffling against the cold
and a helpless ambulance loading her corpse.

It slows our convoy faster than any appeal to reason
or snooping eye. It cuts to the point.
We rubberneckers drive on just below the limit
and curse oncoming cars for reckless fools.

Too late. A lifetime’s trove of small crimes,
Sins tossed lightly aside, creeps into the car
and up the spine; we are witless skeletons
wrapped in thin weak skin and rags, callous

and riding an outlandish streak of luck
that could at any instant come to a stop.
The ambulance bears a precision bomb,
About to be dropped on one suburban home,

Where the blast will wreck three lives, perhaps four,
Some more will feel the shock waves
with diminishing violence, then it fades
and is forgotten with the rest

in fifteen minutes, back now on the M5
planning New Year. At the junction for Wells
we ease onto the accelerator to overtake.
People cannot help themselves.

Jan 2009

4 comments:

monix said...

Well-tinkered.

elberry said...

i liked that. i'm often struck at the proximity of death in the modern world, thanks to cars.

Crinny said...

I like the no-rhyme. Makes the shape of your narrative sharper, more jagged - as befits the subject .

Hey Skipper said...

As usual, brilliant.

However, this struck me:

and riding an outlandish streak of luck

I understand poetic license is a force of nature and all that, but there is in interesting disconnect between people's assessment of risk, and the actual risk.

As it turns out, (IIRC applies, but I think I have it right), in a country with modern roads -- Britain just barely belongs in the club -- one would have to drive continuously for 500 years to stand a 50-50 chance of dying in a traffic accident.

So, maybe survival isn't so outlandishly lucky.

----

Your poem reminded me of several lifetimes ago, driving on the Pasadena Freeway, one of, if not the first, limited access highways in the US.

Of course, it had its share of unlearnt lessons. Among them, very abrupt and short on- and off-ramps. The divergence of the offramps was defined immovable, blunt, concrete blocks.

I just happened to get off the freeway just minutes after another motorist failed to keep it on the pavement, comprehensively face-planting into the block.

As they say in physics, when an irresistible force meets an immovable object, the result is indescribable destruction.

Which I got a chance to see from a dozen feet away as I drove by, before they got him in the body bag.