Jan. 5, 2005

Starting the Subaru at Five Below

by Stuart Kestenbaum


by Raymond Carver

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Poems: "Starting the Subaru at Five Below" by Stuart Kestenbaum, from Pilgrimage © Coyote Love Press. Reprinted with permission. And "Happiness" by Raymond Carver, from All of Us: The Collected Poems © Alfred A. Knopf. Reprinted with permission.

Starting the Subaru at Five Below

After 6 Maine winters and 100,000 miles,
when I take it to be inspected

I search for gas stations where they
just say beep the horn and don't ask me to

put it on the lift, exposing its soft
rusted underbelly. Inside is the record

of commuting: apple cores, a bag from
McDonald's, crushed Dunkin' Donuts cups,

A flashlight that doesn't work and one
That does, gas receipts blurred beyond

recognition. Finger tips numb, nose
hair frozen, I pump the accelerator

and turn the key. The battery cranks,
the engine gives 2 or 3 low groans and

starts. My God it starts. And unlike
my family in the house, the job I'm

headed towards, the poems in my briefcase,
the dreams I had last night, there is

no question about what makes sense.
White exhaust billowing from the tail pipe,

Heater blowing, this car is going to
move me, it's going to take me places.


So early it's still almost dark out.
I'm near the window with coffee,
and the usual early morning stuff
that passes for thought.
When I see the boy and his friend
walking up the road
to deliver the newspaper.
They wear caps and sweaters,
and one boy has a bag over his shoulder.
They are so happy
they aren't saying anything, these boys.
I think if they could, they would take
each other's arm.
It's early in the morning,
and they are doing this thing together.
They come on, slowly.
The sky is taking on light,
though the moon still hangs pale over the water.
Such beauty that for a minute
death and ambition, even love,
doesn't enter into this.
Happiness. It comes on
unexpectedly. And goes beyond, really,
any early morning talk about it.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of Italian writer Umberto Eco, born in 1932 in Alessandria, Italy. He was educated at the University of Turin where he started out studying law but gave it up to follow an interest in literature and medieval philosophy. His first foray into fiction was the novel The Name of the Rose, about a mysterious string of murders at a medieval abbey. He explained, "I began writing in March 1978, prodded by a seminal idea: I felt like poisoning a monk." The work was a strong success in Europe and North America; French director Jean-Jacques Annaud turned the story into a 1986 movie starring Sean Connery, which helped to popularize Eco in the United States as a novelist and encourage him to continue to write long fiction. He followed it up in 1988 with the novel Foucault's Pendulum, and then a few years later, a sweeping tale titled The Island of the Day Before. Umberto Eco, who wrote: "I believe that what we become depends on what our fathers teach us at odd moments, when they aren't trying to teach us."

It's the birthday of American explorer Zebulon Montgomery Pike, born in Trenton, New Jersey, in 1779. In 1805, just after the Louisiana Purchase, he led an eight-month expedition with 20 men along the upper Mississippi River in an attempt to reach the headwaters. With the Louisiana Purchase, the United States had bought the upper Mississippi from the French, and Pike's job was to determine the location of the headwaters, to scout out good locations for military outposts along the river, and to sign treaties with the French traders who'd settled in the area. It wasn't a very successful trip. He reached Leech Lake in what is now Minnesota, but never Lake Itasca, the true headwaters, and he failed to make any Native American allies or drive many French from the territory.

It was on this day in 1825 that the writer Alexandre Dumas the elder fought his first duel, at the age of 23. He lost the battle, and a bit of dignity as well—his pants fell down as he stood opposite his opponent.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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