Jon Tribble

                   RWTHYET (Are we there yet?) | Rick Cummings

                   RWTHYET (Are we there yet?) | Rick Cummings

Driver’s School


If I feel physically as if the top of my head

were taken off, I know this is poetry.

                                            —Emily Dickinson


 He was a screamer, called us

            drunks, punks, low-life scum,

said he’d see we never get

            back on the streets, behind

the wheel if he had any say,


and every Thursday night showed

            the same film, Signal 30,

baby jammed between rear wheel

            and fender, arms and legs

scattered across the median,


marionettes and dummies almost

            indistinguishably slumping

as if all strings were cut,

            nothing tangible left to hold

anything together.  All of it


courtesy of the Ohio State

            Police, even the title shot

of a windshield suddenly splashed

            with blood, its wipers sweeping

against the red downpour.


The first weeks I saw a billboard

            Jesus in my mind, Mississippi’s

own “Bloody 98” snaking through

            Spanish moss and rusting tin

shacks, waiting to “claim


another victim: Will you be next?”

            Shortcut to Mobile, Destin,

Panama City two-week drunks, shot-

            and-beer-nights of easy, teenage,

no name, sweaty, sloppy groping.


But the shock wore off.  Four or

            five weeks in, during the scene

where they use the Jaws of Life,

            cut the driver out of contorted

scrap metal, and the paramedics


try to lift him slow only to have

            the top of his head slip off

like a dime store hairpiece—

            I couldn’t help it, giggling,

then snickering, then full out


laughing.  All the sergeant’s

            redneck threats and nightstick

waving couldn’t stop it.  Then

            it spread.  The woman who wore

her rabbit coat through every


class, the four Latino guys who

            huddled whispering Spanish,

the young black men and women

            who came in couples, the old

men who always got here first,


claiming the back rows so they

            could sleep, all of us joining

in laughter, people who had

            never spoken to one another

drowning out the tired warnings,


giddy and ashamed, joyously alive.



Down at Ray Winder Field you broke

the monotony of another Travelers’

losing season with an empty popcorn

carton you’d flattened and placed

on the concrete as an imaginary

second base.  Fifty feet of baseline

then you hit the floor, ducking

the tag with your body singing out,

arms flailing in misdirection,

ending up huddled on the other side

of the bag.  But your foot would hold

and the crowd cheered and bought you

beer all night, your antics replacing

ninth inning rallies that never came.


In town, you carried a piece of flat

cardboard, plywood, anything that

worked for a target, and you’d set

it down and perform for anyone with

two bucks.  Sidewalks, parking lots,

dead end streets became your runways—

you said you couldn’t work on dirt—

and you’d turn your graying Cardinals

cap backwards and throw your sixty-

year-old body into each steal like

the game was on the line every time.

Your retinue of dogs and kids ran

beside you, even tumbled at the end

in a mass of paws and feet and noise.


But the bigtime was at the ballpark,

The Show for you like most of these

bush leaguers shagging lazy grounders

would never know.  A standing “O”

when you walked in, the peanut-beer-

hot dog vendors kept the wide aisle

between the stands and box seats clear

for you, hawking from the stairs

to stay out of your way, and someone

let you throw out the ball at games

they couldn’t get the Governor, Mayor,

Chief of Police, or anchorperson from

a local station.  A groundskeeper

would come up and sweep the aisle clean


then the place became all yours, the chant


swelling as you bowed deeply to the crowd,

took your stance and eyed the mark you’d set,

small and far away as you began to run.



JON TRIBBLE is the managing editor of Crab Orchard Review and the series editor of the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry published by Southern Illinois University Press. His poems have appeared in journals and anthologies, including Ploughshares, Poetry, Crazyhorse, Quarterly West, and The Jazz Poetry Anthology. His work was selected as the 2001 winner of the Campbell Corner Poetry Prize from Sarah Lawrence College, He teaches creative writing and literature, and directs undergraduate and graduate students in internships and independent study in editing and literary publishing for the Department of English at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.