Learning Curve
by Elizabeth Alford

He was the expert back then, not me.
           I won’t extoll his abilities; they speak

for themselves, and I no longer speak
           for him. But back then, before I knew

how to drive, it was like watching him
           with another lover: how he caressed

the supple steering wheel with one hand,
           gripped the rigid gearshift with the other,

slid perfectly into the curve of every hair-
           pin corner—just like sliding into a woman.

He taught me the basics—of everything.
           I was just so tired of watching; of being

the voyeur in a four-wheeled affair con-
           stantly out of alignment, running on bald

tires, and in desperate need of a tune-up—
           whether we knew it or not. He taught me

a lot, actually. Like, never enter a turn too
           fast; slow down, get to know it a little, get

a feel for the curve. I wish I’d gotten that
           advice a little sooner in the race to starting

our life together. But we were so young;
           we couldn’t know our carefully mapped

plans would crash and burn. When he
           drove away for the last time, I learned

even more: how to reverse out of a drive-
           way at forty miles per hour. How to make

engines wail and tires scream in anger,
           leaving behind only the streaks and smell

of burnt rubber. How to cry like the girl
           I still was. And later, how to stop and pull

myself together—even when the twists
           and turns of love seem too much to bear.

AUTHOR’S PHOTO CAPTION: Standing with my first love in front of his car, minutes before his senior prom, in 2003. I was 15.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: My first love did teach me a lot, including how to drive—and how not to.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Elizabeth Alford is a magna cum laude graduate of California State University, East Bay (B.A. English, 2014). She lives in Hayward, California with her fiancé and mother and cohosts the reading group Poetry Express, based in Berkeley. Her favorite things include yerba mate, sushi, loud music on long drives, staring at the stars, and short poetry. Her work has recently appeared at Quatrain.Fish, PoetryExpressed, Silver Birch Press, Failed Haiku, and is forthcoming at Hedgerow. Follow her poetry adventures at