Rough Road Sign
Driving Lesson
by Robbi Nester

Every Sunday afternoon for years
I’d face the hour that I dreaded
all week long: a driving lesson
with my father.
Like all fifteen-year-olds,
I wanted to grow up,
and driving was the proof
that I was grown.
I longed to get into the car
and go, no more asking
for a ride or taking buses.

My father’s car, a dowdy Chevy,
poked like a pontoon
along cracked streets
where neighbors sat outside
brick bungalows on lawn chairs,
sneering as we rolled slowly by.
And truthfully, it must have been a sight.
My feet hardly reached the pedals,
however augmented with blocks
or phone books. If I slid down,
I couldn’t see the street.
No power steering either:
I had to fight the car to make it turn
and backing up was hopeless.

But if the car itself were not enough,
there was my father—grim gargoyle,
full of fury, grabbing fistfuls of my hair
or stomping on my feet, as others
sped by, windows up, faces
averted, pretending not to see.
In winter we would glide down snowy
hills by Tookany to visit cousins, or stop
at the aquarium. My father made me
strip off boots and socks and drive
barefooted, toes frozen
to the pedal, body stiff with fear.

The lesson always ended the same way,
when dad would reach his rigid arm
across the seat, open the door,
motion me out, two miles from home.
Pulling on my shoes and socks,
I’d muse on the ineffable, full of sorrow
at what could not be said,
watched the nascent moon,
translucent blot on the pink sky,
rise slowly as I walked.

We wouldn’t talk
from one week to the next,
but when next Sunday came around,
I’d hope things might be different,
climb into the car, attempt
a starchy smile, and try again.

PHOTO: “Rough Road” by Bokicbo, used by permission.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Robbi Nester is the author of a chapbook, Balance (White Violet, 2012), a collection of poems, A Likely Story (Moon Tide, 2014), and editor of an anthology, The Liberal Media Made Me Do It (Nine Toes, 2014). Currently, she is editing an anthology of poems inspired by the photography of Beth Moon to be published online by Inlandia Institute. Her poems, essays, reviews, and interviews have appeared in many journals, anthologies, and websites.