An Online Literature and Art Journal

Driving with Father

Unlike most kids
who fought for the privilege,
cajoling and making deals—
a stick of chewing gum,
a shiny penny—
selling whatever it takes
to ride up front with Dad,
we begged for the back,
the big 8 cylinder Chevy wagon
more like a boat than a car
sailing the streets of Chicago
leaving, always leaving:
west, south, north–once
we even went east to New York,
Niagara–the backseat
too far from the front for a hand to reach
backward across your face.

Somewhere around 1960,
I was riding shotgun.
Memory like an endless loop.
It could have been once
or a hundred times—
and still it would be fixed
as a photo, sharp light
coming in from the sides
converging on that one moment
illuminated bright as the slap

that lashed quicker than shutter speed
for whatever transgression
one of us may or may not have
committed in the eyes of my father,
wearied by year after year
of squabbling children
until the backhand was automatic,
like one of those mechanical toys
that repeat over and over one motion
and one motion only, stiff as tin,
a humorless smile rusted in place.

Whatever the cause, the result
was a lip, puffed as popcorn,
split like a grape, purple and bruised.
How hard it was to watch day after day
as the rest of our lives loosened,
floated down,
like so many leaves
off the family tree.


Barbra Nightingale has over 200 poems in various journals and anthologies, including Missouri Review, Rattle, The Florida Review, Through a Distant Lens, City of Big Shoulders, Kalliope. Her most recent books include Two Voices, One Past and Geometry of Dreams. She teaches English and creative writing at Broward College, Ft. Lauderdale.