Saturday, March 28, 2015

Poem of the Day: “red light” by John Reinhart

Songs of Eretz Poetry Review is pleased to present “red light” by John Reinhart.  One-time beginner yo-yo champion, state fiddle and guitar champion, tinkerer, and certifiable eccentric, John Reinhart lives in the Weird, between now and never, collecting and protecting discarded treasures, and whistling combinations of every tune he knows. His poetry has recently been published in:  Apeiron Review, Black Heart Magazine, FishFood & LavaJuice Magazine, Liquid Imagination, Star*Line, and Vocabula Review. You can listen to him fiddle at

red light
John Reinhart

stop, check the rearview--
unlike Snow White’s stepmother, I saw not
myself, but like her mirror,
my rearview reflected a gorgeous visage:
my life’s love,
my one and only true soul mate long lost better half
checking her lipstick in her own rearview,
a comfortable yet cozy six feet behind my bumper,
a safe and reasonable distance according to driver’s ed

her car was clean, six cylinders, not ostentatious
with good gas mileage according to the sticker at the lot, practical
dependable strong loyal independent spontaneous when necessary
attractive a good listener - all the same characteristics she
would see in me and many I value in a woman, this woman
the one behind the wheel behind my wheel stopped, as if by
chance or fate at the same red beacon of universal karmic law

in the same effervescence of diesel fumes CO2 eroding
asphalt and anxious morning coffee please-don’t-let-me-be-late
sweat of the modern workforce wage roundup
she glowed like the check engine light on my dash,
conjuring images of Thursday nights turned Fridays out sick

oh, the collaboration of all those features in her
face, forming the look of the girl next door or the
house one over or the one who could have been an actress
or a model or a porn star or maybe one of those waitresses
you meet in the corner bistros with good food and decent prices
who are probably working in the family biz but just until they make the break

not a waitress you know for only ten minutes but one who sits
down for a drink during lunch rush, ignores the boss the clock the customers,
gazes into her cup reading the entrails of foam then quits quietly,
walks out with dignity, arm in arm out of work
without a care into sunlight into the sunset into
the rest of her life into the end credits into the car behind
mine at the red light on 17th and Sheridan where our lives
meet, mingle, and progress instantaneously into eternity
wedded by the rearview mirror, never looking back,
writing our futures intuitively

we make love with our eyes with our eyes closed on the beach in the elevator in the backseat of my car just out of view of the rearview mirror on the floor on the table, at red lights while traffic
passes like buffalo or mosquitoes at dusk, horns ablaze yet weaving past our hazards,
blocking the road and paving another, our road,
the road, the superhighway of all time where
speed has no limits and time has no speed and the
grass is always green, where we recline in the moss, together
inexplicably indelibly improbably inexorably inevitably
by a chance fated necessary meeting in mirrors at a light
that said stop: stop and notice, see the roses,

then I saw her waving, motioning, gesturing,
communicating – it was all overwhelming – crying, laughing,
both at once, in cryptic code –
a moment passed
and then another
then I realized, I knew, I understood:
the inevitable

as I looked behind me, she turned the wheel, redirected
fate and like the energizer itself, reconfigured my molecules
before dumping my newly configured body into another reality,
she passed me, still gesticulating with more animation than classic
Looney Tunes on Saturdays past, followed by an overweight Ford
with an accountant, lust in his eyes and a coffee perched perilously
on an attitude of eternal defeat, then station wagon with a woman
off to man a desk and phone and listen to people complain about
a service she knows nothing about

I looked up
to see the light
once red was adamantly green
and the horns of passing cattle prodded me to go

I leaned on the accelerator, only faintly realizing
the loss of truth, beauty, and love,
but the light turned red again –
this time my mirror revealed a haggard man with three kids in the
car, a ringing in his ears, a bald spot growing on his forehead,
and no love or longing or lust or even recognition
in his heart for me, stuck at the red light at 17th and Sheridan

Poet’s Notes:  Is hindsight really 20/20? Not if the future is behind us.

The idea of holding infinity in the palm of your hand is the beauty of Romantic transcendence caught in the web of modern conceit. There is more than a little bit of self-mockery in this poem, as a Romantic, a man, and a devoted husband and father, interlaced with commentary about expectations, dreams, and the Mitty-fold potential of the infinite instants that compose the nine-to-five countdown to Taps.

Keats was exceptional at elegantly capturing this sense of eternal moments. I tried to capture a similar sentiment with the exception that not only is this a fictitious moment, but the fictitious dream never came to be, and the poet whose head we enter is in fact holding up traffic. What a nuisance!

I composed the basis for this poem in my head during my daily commute, which takes me past 17th and Sheridan twice daily six days a week. When I sat down to write this, I poured in every commuting image and sound, and then punctuated with deadly seriousness and sardonic humor, both of which are in easy reach when I ponder early morning traffic.

Editor’s Note:  The most beautiful and enduring possibilities in life can be denied in a moment--in the duration of a red light.  What a thought-provoking and moving poetic conceit!  The final four stanzas, where the narrator snaps out of his reverie, hit me like a bucket of ice water to the face, with the final stanza, whether interpreted as foreshadowing or not, leaving me stunned.  "red light" first appeared in the November 2014 issue of Songs of Eretz Poetry E-zine.

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