It's not often that long, boring car rides provide me with metaphors for how powerful poetry can be but recently I was on just such a drive and was visited by just such a metaphor. The road was long and straight and the scenery repetitive. The radio was playing top-forty trash which seemed to melt into one continuous whine punctuated by a monotonous bass line. I was driving on auto-pilot, no longer aware of my surroundings or what I was thinking at the time.
I gradually became aware of an eighteen-wheel tractor-trailer approaching in the distance although this 'awareness' was more like a nebulous shape forming from the fog of my subconscious than any tangible reality- that is until it was suddenly upon me, past me- and my car shuddered with the accordion of air its bulk was pushing before it and the vortex created behind it. I grabbed the wheel as my heart began to race and I was ripped from my stupor into a more vibrant consciousness where I became aware once again of where I was, the camber of the road, the scenery rushing past.
Good poetry is like that. It has the power to shake us out of the stupor we descend into far too readily and make us suddenly aware again of our surroundings. I'm not sure what kind of truck it was that passed me on the road. I don't know what it was carrying. I don't know where it had originated nor what its destination was. Those details were less important than the way its speed and the churning air around it suddenly transformed the way I was travelling. Sometimes I read a poem and may not know from whence it's come nor where it's headed. But there is something about the way it's going- perhaps the tone or language of the poem, perhaps only a single resonating image- that buffets me in its passing and makes me grip the wheel tighter and with more intention than before.