We parked on the side of Mulholland Drive, above the San Fernando Valley. Two in the morning. Only a couple of minutes into our commotion, the point you’re committed to the conclusion but clothes remain wrapped around legs and arms, not yet completely shed; a tapping on the window, a California Highway Patrolman and a flashlight. This is not about lust. Cars are the topic. So far, I’ve owned nine in my life. At one time or another, slept in three of them; also had sex in three. To me, a car is utilitarian, never saw them as status symbols. Most other people do. Currently, I drive a hybrid, my commute is fifty miles each day.

I’ve never written a poem about a car, though in one poem* a car co-stars. My favorite line that I’ve written that involves a car, “The bank robber fell asleep at the wheel of his getaway car.” The rest of the poem** has nothing to do with cars.

The first car was invented in Germany, 1886, by Karl Friedrich Benz. A four cycle internal combustion gasoline-powered engine drove a small chassis with three wheels. Top speed, 8 miles per hour. It’s much more difficult to establish the first car poem. And the first poem?

Was it Harold or Patrick who told me that a car is a monastery? Was it the front or rear tire that I urinated on in reply? Context is everything. There is a misunderstanding. Poetry in motion has nothing to do with poetry; nothing to do with cars, either. Many of the world’s most accomplished car designers are trained at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, by coincidence, the college I graduated. Large, glass-walled rooms, boys in wrinkled shirts sculpting quarter-scale cars from damp clay. Isn’t everything made this way, sculpted? Yes. If a car begins as damp clay, how does a poem begin?

Driving to work just as the sun was making its way over the Santa Monica Mountains, two lanes over, a silver Jaguar was sliding down the freeway just a tad faster than I was. Relative speed made it seem like it was doing ten miles per hour. A swatch of reflected sunlight licked the Jaguar from the front of the hood to the top of the windshield. The windows were tinted, the silhouette of a man with sunglasses was the only the thing visible inside. The dark brown hill lining the freeway was a blur. I’ve never seen a more beautiful car.

A car is not a poem, but a poem could be a car. I’ve driven poems, perhaps more accurate to say, poems have driven me. I’ve tried to write in a car but it never works for me. As soon as I start to scribble poetry in a car a tiredness overwhelms me. My eyelids seem to grow thicker. The other day I arrived to a meeting early, decided to kill twenty minutes sitting in my car. Happened to False Prophets by Stan Rice with me, read two poems, began to write. Within minutes I was asleep.

According to a 2006 story in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, a man was found dead sitting behind the wheel of a 1994 Honda Civic on Laurel Drive in Rocky River, Ohio. There was an open notebook in his lap. The police officer on the scene told a reporter it appeared that “the guy was writing a poem, imagine that, dropping dead in a car on a snowy Monday night.” I could imagine that.

* The Invious

An automobile washed up on shore.
Was found laying on the passenger side,
could only imagine the side mirror was crushed;
could only imagine the difficulty
someone would have had climbing out,
if they hadn’t exited prior to the moment
the surf tumbled it into position.
It was found at low tide.
Drying salt water
gave the blue sheet metal
a patchy white sheen.
Seaweed clung to the bumpers
and was caught
under a windshield wiper blade.
The headlights, and this is the strange part,
though faded, still glowed.
A gift from Neptune
or the result of an accident
-- we’ll never know.
There were no witnesses when it arrived.

We tried to imagine
what else might have washed up
but returned to the ocean before dawn.
This was the same beach
where last month a woman walked
out of the water after being missing for seven years.
Her torn white dress clung to her thighs.
She carried her blouse and two broken shoes
that she put on at the road just beyond the sand.
She waved off the two men who rushed to her.
There’s so much we don’t know about the ocean.

** The Short Season of Sleep

A zookeeper carried a bucket of raw meat
into the lion’s cage, then yawned, sat down
and began to doze. The lion was snoring,
its tail sweeping the ground in a dream.

The bank robber fell asleep at the wheel of his getaway car.
The money in the paper bag next to him closed its eyes.
Not even the dentist could resist, eventually resting
his head against the face of a slumbering patient, the small
drill left to twist harmlessly in the cavern of the mouth.

The sleepiness was contagious, drifting from one heavy eyelid to another.
The last thing anyone remembered were the voices of people
singing lullabies as they strolled arm-in-arm through the town.
Not wanting to wake his passengers, the deaf bus driver waved
and didn’t sound his horn as he drove past the choristers.

No one knows what music the bats made that night
as they rose from their cave into the quiet sky
and chased a somnambulist walking along the river.

This was how the short season of sleep came and we discovered
the only difference between sleep and death was the waking up.
The next day this was discussed by everyone except the schoolteacher,
who remained at the desk in front of the classroom, her head tucked
into the fold of an arm, her blond hair moving with the breeze.