Let Everything Be Taken As Given

Out on the blind freeway his rotting tires
smoke and squeal. In the tank the world’s
final can of gasoline boils away. Tomorrow
they’ll drag the car to the crushers

this last tailpipe dribbling smog
through the trunks of wind turbines,
a steering wheel alone among algorithms,
but neon schools still part for him tonight

like fish, like a field of grass bent by fleeing deer.
As he passes, children in newer cars
put their faces to the glass. Their parents glance
from screens. Some smile. Some scowl.

The engine snarls as he cuts through traffic
that makes no more sound than wind
sieving stands of replanted pines.
The lightless eyes of automatic cars

read the road, reason among themselves
at highway speeds with cool electric grace.
What do these people do with their idle hands,
their twitching feet? He shoulders past

behind his garish sweep of headlights,
proud, desperate for his human
swerving. Tomorrow he’ll sit down forever
in a front seat that doesn’t mean anything.

He remembers eighty-mile-an-hour summers
on fresh-laid blacktop past road crews sweating,
miserable with the work. Flipping coins
at deserted intersections. Stopping to fill the tank,

buy cheap plastic crap to prove where he’d been.
And the radio plucking songs one after the other,
someone in a room somewhere cramming music
into the desert air. Nothing but static now

through the fingers of the ancient radio,
but he cranks it anyway as the night sobs
in his ears, and under the hood the hammering
scum of ancient, gracious seas.

—Daniel Priest