In the Back Seat Was a Poet's Inspiration

ANY subject or image can be the basis for a poem. The one below - in two of its earlier drafts and then its final version - is based on an experience I had on Route 1 in Maine last summer. A station wagon in front of me seemed to be carrying black balloons in its back seat. As I got closer for a better look, I thought I saw a small rubber raft inflating. I sped up, and when I was practically on the wagon's bumper, I saw the outline of a large stuffed donkey. My curiosity burning, I moved beside the car and found myself staring at a live, chewing donkey. The driver offered a feeble grin in response to my laughter, and then she exited the highway. The challenge - and the fun - in writing the poem was deciding what to do with the scene once the narrative had been established. First draft

Route One, behind

a station wagon. The driver's

head just clears the seat.

In back, black balloons, or

a small raft, inflating. Eyes

don't know the difference. Now

it's a stuffed donkey. Pass

the wagon as it exits the long

gray road. You're one ring of

a circus; ring two the tiny driver.

Last the donkey show, twitching

a little, sneezing, then

ducking below. Third draft Route One, Behind a Station Wagon

The driver's head just clears

the seat. In back, black balloons,

or a small raft, inflating. Now it's

a donkey who twitches a little, star of

a family show. The tiny ringleader waves

me along as she exits the long gray road.

I'm one more hopeful, seeking applause,

finding my place as I go, but the donkey

stands, steals my bow, then tucks himself below. Final version Route One, Behind a Station Wagon

The driver's head just clears

the seat. In back, black balloons

or a small raft, inflating. Now

it's a donkey who gapes, star

of a family show. The tiny ringleader waves

at her exit here on the narrow gray road.

I'm one more hopeful, seeking

applause, another ring in the circus.

But the donkey stands, steals

my bow, then tucks himself below.

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