Poem by Robert Phillips

As a teenager I would drive Father’s
Chevrolet cross-county given me
Reluctantly: “Always keep the tank
Half full, boy, half full, ya hear?”
The fuel gauge dipping, dipping
Toward Empty, hitting Empty, then
–thrilling—way below Empty,
myself driving cross-county

mile after mile, faster and faster,
all night long, this crazy kid driving
the earth’s rolling surface,
against all laws, defying chemistry,
rules, and time, riding on nothing
but fumes, pushing luck harder
than anyone pushed before, the wind
screaming past like the Furies…
I stranded myself only once, a white
Night with no gas stations open, ninety miles
From nowhere. Panicked for a while,
At a standstill, myself stalled.
At dawn the car and I both refilled. But,
Father, I am running on empty still. 

Note: Robert Phillips, born in 1938, refers to himself as a “teenager” in this poem, so I’m guessing he might have driven a 1954 Chevy when he was 16.

Source: Find this and scores of other remarkable poems in Drive, They Said: Poems About Americans and Their Cars, an excellent anthology edited by Kurt Brown (Milkweed Editions, 1994) — available at