Considering he’s 83, it’s not surprising that a sense of “getting older” has crept into Wagoner’s recent poetry. I suspect even the title of this volume, A Map of the Nightrefers to the end of life. I’ve got aways to go before I reach his age, if I ever do, but I am already sensing that people treat me differently than they used to.
Of course, the idea of “being taken for a ride” could apply to any of us at any time during our life. It would be especially surprising if grandkids couldn’t identify with much of this poem:
Being Taken for a Ride
They don’t mean any harm. They’re helping you
get in, all the way in. They’re making sure
your legs are adjusted, your belt snapped,
with no loose ends sticking out to be caught
when the door slams shut. And then they slam it
and latch it. You see someone you don’t know
already in the driver’s seat, impatient with you,
gunning the engine. The others are in the back,
and you all move forward now into the street,
going somewhere. The driver holds the wheel
too loosely with the fingers of one hand,
one elbow out in the wind, his shaded eyes
not on the road, but on other drivers
or himself in the mirror. You hate to say anything
critical. After all, it isn’t your car,
not even, really, your idea
to be doing this, but everything is going
much too fast and happening too fast,
and that strange music on the radio
is too loud. After all, there are limits.
Driving a car is a privilege. You can remember
driving your father’s car inside the garage
at night with the lights off and no key
to turn the ignition on and no license
of your own yet. But even back then,
you had a feeling for the road ahead
ahead of time, of the You you were going to be.
Yet here you are, right now, afraid
to speak your mind, buckled and locked
in a passenger seat and being taken somewhere.
If you’ve ever had to struggle to get a child to sit still long enough to get those new-fangled seat belts snapped, then the beginning of this poem might seem familiar. No wonder someone older would resent such treatment — who wants to be treated like a kid?
It’s hard for those of us used to doing the driving to sit in the passenger’s seat while someone else controls our destiny. Reminds me of the times when I was teaching a kid to drive and trying desperately not sound like Bob Newhart’s “Driving Instructor.” Shouldn’t anyone know that rap music is not appropriate when you’re driving down a crowded freeway full of other aggressive drivers.
It’s funny how old folks always seem to refer to childhood, isn’t it, since they’re even farther from it than we are? One of the biggest differences from being young and being old, as Wagoner points out, is that when you’re young you can also look forward to better times. What can you hope for when you’ve nearly reached the end if the road?