Two Poems

Christina Kallery

Trying to Start the Van

This cement-skied morning in Hell’s
Kitchen, which sounds like we’d be roasting
on our feet, but ice rings tailpipes in the street
as the engine of a dingy van strains,
chokes and sputters like a felled
wildebeest or drunk with whooping cough.
It’s an old white Ford with scraped-off
lettering, that once was maybe driven
by a carpet guy or extermination crew.
A van churned out by workers in a factory
in Detroit, the kind I used to pass on 94
back home, snaking between smokestacks,
everything the color of rust.

The van’s still wheezing in the gutter
while a black town car gleams by
and I watch and wish the thing
would start, not only for the driver,
now awfully late to somewhere,
but the once-sleek engine now agasp
in dead cold, and the guys from that factory,
long laid off and dozing in front of talk shows,
braving another round of want ads,
or taking drive-thru orders and whatever work
that comes. And for Detroit, its heart of steel
and rubble, the unglamorous, needful grit that set
the world in motion and gave us songs to sing.
I’m rooting for them all, for that gray
belch and rumble to finally take this time,
as the starter fires and turns over,
over and over again.


Watching the Bears: Big Bay, Michigan

For years before cable TV hit, the Big Bay dump
was semi-famous in nearby towns. On warm
nights, cars came crunching up the gravel road

headlights dimmed, the way you’d sneak into
the drive-in when the movie’d started. Except
there was no Spielberg blockbuster, no enormous

kisses, magnificent explosions, not even a pale
screen to loom over acres of spiky evergreens. Instead,
entertainment was the live, black bears that ate

the garbage at the dump. Families in station wagons,
college kids crammed into someone’s rusted El
Camino, windows rolled low and daring as the bears

appeared from the edges of darkened woods and lumbered
out to feast on Quarter Pounder crusts, table scraps
and mozzarella glued to pizza boxes. Black furred

haunches glistening, they pawed through bags
with happy snorts and grunts, easy meals to come by
after months of snowy sleep. One eve, a young guy brave

with a few too many beers got close enough to lob
his empty bottle at a bear—one of those mistakes in life
felt instantly as the big head turned, round ears cocked flat,

and lunged, while the drunk kid sprinted on watery legs
and dove into the waiting car, his buddies slamming
the door in time to dodge an angry swipe that left

a furrow in the driver’s side, souvenir for overstating
his rank in the world. Who knows if they considered their pal’s
brush with being lunchmeat or just headed off to town, tossing

back more bottles, blasting Zepplin’s Black Dog, stopping to chat
up a chubby barmaid at the Crossroads Tavern on 480, the last
letters in its red sign flickering, the only light for miles.