99 to the 405
by Torrin Greathouse
License still smelling of fresh ink, still hot against the palm
my mother told me, you have a car now, you can drive yourself to school.
The furthest I had ever driven before was 20 minutes on my own,
and now 300 miles stretched out before me
like a carpet of black unfurling endlessly,
seemed as ceaseless as the mouth of night.
I left at 5am, the grass already slick with ice
like night sweat in the mid-September chill.
Watched the sun rise over the crumbling edges of Bakersfield,
learned the curves of the Grapevine,
so much like my crooked, misshapen spine,
listened with my palms, pressed to the wheel,
like ears pressed to a wall of engine noise,
before the mountains spat me out on to the 405.
Reckless and relentless teacher of the road,
like ruler across knuckles, like blood painting
the canvas of a boxing ring, rumble strip black
packed with cars like an assembly line emptying
into street after street lined with decay,
engines burning like torches on the hard shoulder.
It was here that I learned the language of my new home,
how easily the tongue, or the car, slides
from 405 to 605 to the 5 to the 55 and back,
like a trombone slide,
learned to add my engine roar to the freeway song,
and how to sight read the road, each car a note in a song
that goes on and on and on,
somewhere between rusting metal and jazz band groove.
It was here, tank half empty, weaving between semis
and yellow line wreckage, everything I owned packed tight
into the back of a secondhand car,
that I learned to drive.
PHOTO: “Entrance, 405 Freeway (California)” by jdoms, used by permission.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Torrin Greathouse is a non-binary, queer poet, governing member of UCI’s Uncultivated Rabbits poetry collective, and 2015 winner of the Orange County Poetry Slam. Their work has been published or is upcoming in Rust + Moth, Chiron Review, Crack the Spine, VerseWrights, Caliban Online, and the chapbook Cosmic Taxi Driver Blues.