Ode to the Car Keys


In the late sixties we were so fed up we wanted to destroy it all. That’s when we changed the name of America and stuck in the “k”. The mood today is different, and the language that will respond to today’s mood will be different. Things are so deteriorated in this society, that it’s not up to you to destroy America, it’s up to you to go out and save America.
—Abbie Hoffman, National Student Convention ’88, Rutgers University

In a burst of Dionysian FRIGHT
  you’re snagged
    keys locked inside
      first week first car in 16 years
forced to ring a stranger’s steel curtain door
  for a healing coat hanger never used before
    dipped in 19 consecutive generations
      of herbal locksmith experimental libations
but the magic potion hanger won’t fit
  in the window
    till you rip rubber insulation padding
      and then doorknob comes only halfway up
then back all the way down
  50 times
    halfway up and all the way down
      till finally you realize this ain’t gonna work
So you call local police for help
  but begin screaming
    “You broke Martin’s new plastic jaw
      with a Jim Crow hangman’s billy club law!”
then casually describe your local campaign plans
  to institute civilian review board rock & roll bands
    that would include 6-year olds
      with no corporate two-party political bias
so by the time you ask
  about getting car door opened
    all officers are busy
      and locksmith equipment all locked up
Just in time you remember a spare key
  in your bedroom dresser
    hid in pages of an old spiral notebook
      you haven’t looked at since heavy drinking days
but you realize apartment’s an hour away
  and front door keys
    on your car key ring
      with six others
now easily countably floppy in the ignition
  O keys, how brilliant your bright sunned reflection
    through the passengerside window!
      O shit

No wonder 16 years without a car
  and today at work I’m driving
    an 8-months pregnant homeless Latina woman
      to look at apartments
She hasn’t had house keys for awhile
  and O My Keys she’s getting nervous
    having contractions while I’m only
      learning to deliver messages
but she knows he’s coming early
  “it’s a boy” her last boy early
    one before that too
      she might have liked a girl
they’ll be no more apartments to see today
  that she can’t have
    despite shiny new
      Section 8 rent subsidy certificate
and only 5 more student loan repayments before
  eligible for new loans to paralegal school
    where she’ll study to lawyer
      once she finds a legal home
and you my car keys are in their proper place
  the ignition
    but the path is blocked
      & I can’t reach you
no matter how I open
  cleansed perception
    to Blakean infinity
      of blue skies above

Yvette feels guilty
  doesn’t want any Amandla Crossing
    Transitional Housing residents
      to hear of my screw up
cause they’ll think her bad luck
  so I yell second time today:
    “Don’t internalize everything! It’s all me!
      I’m Fucking Idiot for the Day
this’s absolutely no reflection on you!”
  to no avail
    she still doesn’t want me telling
      and I feel guilty for losing my cool
till she says at least I’m acting
  human now
    not like some ice cube social worker—
      role reversal—here—mid street
wherever we’re stuck
  with keys where they’re supposed to be
    but not now please O keys not now
      please not now not now not now not now
not not not not not not now now now now now now
  hypnotized into iron trance
    depressed about red tears
      dropping my palm’s longest line
who would believe our story
  when no more than two senators
    expressed belief
      in Anita Hill?
Magically suspending disbelief
  doesn’t cut
    the mustard tree
      of earthly political justice
and now a right-wing Supreme Court zealot
  can help illustrate that ideology does not know
    rigid ethnic or gender boundaries
      though sociopolitical power
up to this historic point mostly certainly does
  If Anita Hill wasn’t believed
    what woman will?
      Surely not 27 homeless women
in our transitional housing program
  sure not 50 kids
    with homelessness
      carved into cranial histories
Yvette’s worried, supposed to be back soon
  to take her two kids out of daycare
    where we left them with 48 others
      about to throw 250 million p-i-e-c-e-s
of a giant jigsaw puzzle
  of the world or country or state
    can’t remember which
      onto the floor
Now that I think of it
  it looked
    a lot like
      the American left
or maybe Picasso’s Guernica
  as seen by Gert Stein
    after reading Ulysses
      and deconstructing the Cyclops chapter
Yvette’s supposed to be back by 5:00
  my watch stopped at 4:30
    does that mean I can’t be late?
      O my bright shining keys! o my!

Things could be worse!
  I could be writing an ode to my clothes
    standing naked here in Woodbridge
      groping for an anti-Enlightenment
edenic fig leaf technology
  while Neruda gets angry with me
    for ripping off his ideas while failing
      to move the planet noticeably forward
I could be waving pro-choice coat hangers
  as lone protection from extremist explosions
    of toxic-dump land
      to radioactive air missiles.
I could be Father Aristede
  given unceremonious boot
    by U.S.-trained guntoting cahoots
      while unknown mystery beings
who look just like Tonton Macouts
  in nonhuman-dimensional suits
    disappear organizers against coups
      before teary-eyed silent infant cries
Before Yeltsinian greed took over
  Gorbachev thank Compassion’s Window
    returned for a moment
      from his long coupy trip
I condemned that one
  right away
    no more anti-democratic acts
      in socialism’s name!
The dream of the utopian left was
  to lead Democracy’s child
    into new & underground parts
      of the city
not to try saving the city
  by offering the child up
    as sacrifice
      to the latest books
turned into the latest
  manufactured biblicistic fractured
    tylenol tablets
      Tip those KGBCIA statues over!
America I’ve given you all
  and now what & where am I?
    With the key thru the window?
      And no one to drive the car?
Over half our Canadian neighbors
  live in provinces driven
    by democratic left NDP
      while here ozone layer disintegrates
& any tourist can smell
  rotting perfume riding NJ’s Turnpike
    with car windows open
      Where’s our New Democratic Party, my keys?

I measure every grief I meet
  with probing eyes that are wider
    than that slot
      between window and locked doorknob
here with me is a woman talking to death
  saying no, I survived your phantoms
    saying my kids and I
      will beat you to the wheel this time
and looked at this way
  car keys don’t matter
    what kind of metaphor
      is this?
what the ability to drive a machine
  compared to this?
    how the literary canon
      stand up to this?
what kind
  of home
    is getting into a car
  “What, you suddenly have goddamned
      to daydream NOW?”
And I laugh
    in the lack
      of act
thinking how beautiful it would feel
  jingling keys
    in my palm’s
      eye again
After the modernists deconstructed
  what that exists
    and postmodernists added questions
      of identity construction & appropriation
to the equation that could never be
  an equation to them
    O reasonable unreasonableness
      who am I
at this moment to them
  this only jewish child
    of a concentration camp survivor mom
      depression-pinched chemistry dad
now helpless outside a locked car?
  Who is this pregnant homeless woman beside me
    whose name I have changed
      to write this poem
now trying her luck with the door?
  Who is that kicking her belly
    to enter this polluted world
      before it’s ready?
Who are these survivors
of domestic violence, of injuries
that suck up the
rent, teenaged mothers kicked
out the house, drugged out escape
routes, AIDS ripping
apart growing bones, father-in-law
rapes, local police
badges branded on their bodies, 27 different
reasons for homelessness, ten thousand reasons for the kids, without
playgrounds, tumbling on used heroin
needles, bunkbed torched by racism’s adult
white gasolined robes, dinner sacrificed
for parental addictions to
theft of convictions, congress-dictated plutonium
profitable neglect, 3 a.m. drunken bangings
on cardboard welfare motel doors, rusty handgun barrels
armed & aimed into
the cradle’s third eye, thunder lightning
of 100 million multinational sexual
abuse nightmares, it’s over it’s over it’s over it’s over
there just ain’t no reason for hope it’s got
to be over;
  no I refuse
    to give up
got to get those keys
  without breaking
    the window
      one can’t buy a new window
50 kids back home working on a jigsaw puzzle
  half african-american,
    one-third latino one-third white, one-quarter indian
      one-tenth amerasian
and one more tenth
  born into pneumonia’s
    infant mortality
      death grip
O endless ironizing detachment into an ineluctable void!
O keys! Got to get you soon
without breaking the window O world!