Student driver
by Gail Fishman Gerwin

                    Best of Luck and Drive Right, Art Jocher
                    —yearbook autograph, EHS

When I was sixteen I sat behind the wheel
of a blue Chevrolet, property of Eastside High.

Atop the car, a rectangular sign—STUDENT DRIVER,
KEEP BACK, like post office most-wanteds.

Duplicate gas pedals and brakes connected drivers
to Mr. Jocher, who doubled as a football coach.

Three students to a session (two cowering in back
without the benefit of seat belts) awaited turns

to ply the streets of Paterson, time out from Trig,
American History, time to gain enough experience

for learner permits by our next birthdays. When we
reached a curve, downshifted into second, all inside

listed to the right, to the left, while Mr. Jocher called
Brake Brake BRAKE, his face red—with what?

Anger? Fear? Chest Pain? We’d head for the Tenth Avenue
Circle, a high note in the song of a city filled with prosperity,

its schools nesting grounds for a generation that left without a
gaze backward. By the end of a forty-minute drive—Mr. Jocher:

clothed in the sweat we’d caused. Park Park PARK,
he barked as we navigated between trash cans he’d arranged

outside the gym. He’d amble away, a little wobbly, no
goodbyes, to rest up for his next outing, unaware of how well

he’d prepared us for the lifetime of miles we would encounter.

—from Dear Kinfolk,

IMAGE: “Student Driver” by Mr. Vector, used by permission.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: Many years after Mr. Jocher endured us, I was in a local shop far from where I grew up. It turned out that the owner was Mr. Jocher’s niece. I was sad to hear that he had passed away. Sometimes I wish I could have another go at a three-speed shift. Down for first, up for second…


Gail Fishman Gerwin
’s collection Sugar and Sand was a Paterson Poetry Prize finalist; Dear Kinfolk, earned a Paterson Award for Literary Excellence. Aldrich Press recently published her third collection, Crowns. She founded the New Jersey writing/editing firm inedit and is associate poetry editor of Tiferet Journal. Her fiction, poetry, essays, and drama appear in literary journals, other media, and on stage. Visit her at