The Wreck [Poetry]

by David Kirby

Bobby Wilkerson had an affinity for accidents
i.e., not for having but for coming across
wrecks, drownings, kids who’d run over their
own feet with a lawnmower, houses afire:
you name it, and Bobby had pulled someone free,
pumped water from her lungs, used his belt
……as a tourniquet to stop the bleeding,
or organized a bucket brigade, and all
since you’d seen him last, even though
that might have just been yesterday.
And he wasn’t always successful, either:
Bobby was not one of those guys who
……was always telling you what a hero he was.

………To the contrary, he seemed a little mystified
by his talent for stumbling upon the misfortune
of others and not altogether happy about it;
……in fact, I’m not sure no one would have known about
most of the accidents Bobby came across
were it not that they were witnessed by
……at least one and usually two or three other guys,
because Bobby was the gregarious type
and was always looking for fellows to go to
New Orleans with or maybe just over to Maringouin
to try and pick up Cajun girls at the Honeydipper,
……though as soon as they got on their way, sure enough,
they’d see a bunch of kids screaming by the edge

………of a pond or flames licking up the side of a shack
sitting off by itself in a field somewhere.
……Someone would say, Goddamn, Bobby!
and Bobby would say Whoooa, shit,
and that would be the end of that expedition.
Once Bobby and a bunch of his friends
……decided to go to Austin and they asked
………Bobby’s younger brother Clayton to go
and me, too, who, like Clayton was
a sophomore. If you remember high school,
……you know what the approval of older guys means
and therefore what a big deal it was
for Clayton and me to be crammed in that car.

with Bobby and three of his friends, all seniors,
………and kid around and have them tease us
and get the benefit of everything they knew
about sports and school and parents and women.
We drove all afternoon and well into the night,
……taking turns driving and stopping only to pee,
and once when I was sleeping,
………I felt someone shake my shoulder,
it was Bobby handing me half a Pet Ritz pecan pie
……and saying, Eat this before somebody else does,
and I scarfed that pie in bleary-eyed ecstasy,
happier than anyone could know that I was
one of the crowd and that we were going to Texas.


……Then we can across the wreck.
This would be sometime after midnight
on a two-lane just over the Louisiana border,
and I would have been in the passenger’s seat,
……studying the map and making sure the driver
stayed awake. Then I saw what at first looked
………like a grounded flying saucer resting right on
the center stripe, it was a car turned sideways,
……with its dome light on. Pull over, I said,
and whoever was driving started to park
on the shoulder and then slammed on the brakes –
there was a tractor-trailer rig on the roadside,
……big as a building and, because there was no moon

………that night, all but invisible in the darkness.
Whoooa, shit, said Bobby. We could hear people
crying in the car, so we headed toward that way,
……but Bobby said, David, see if there is anybody
in the truck, and gave me his flashlight.
I hauled myself up on the step to the driver’s door,
and, sure enough, there he was,
………his head resting against the wheel.
Mister, I said, mister, but he didn’t budge,
so I slipped my hand inside his shirt,
and there was no heartbeat,
……and the hair on his chest was scratchy and thick,
but beneath it the skin was already so cool

………that I jumped back as though burned,
and when I shined the light in his eyes, I could see
……that he was fair-haired and small-featured
but gray in color, almost blue.
Nothing to be done here, I thought,
and joined the others, who had more or less
……gone to hell: there were four fellows
about our age in the car, the two in front
obviously dead and the ones in the back horribly injured
yet conscious and screaming incoherently,
……like big dying babies; you could see their skulls
through the rips in the skin. There was blood and whiskey
and piss all over the seats and the windows,
………and the two boys who were alive kept trying to move
……and then screamed even more loudly, because their bones

were broken, and they were going through all this
for no reason, because even I could see
there was no way they were going to recover.
……We were the first ones on the scene, but others came along,
and someone found a farmhouse and called for help,
………and an ambulance came, and a couple of tow trucks,
and within an hour the highway was empty
……except for some glass and a couple of puddles.
The rain’ll get that, said a trooper, and he thanked us,
even though we hadn’t really done anything.
And then we were on our way to Austin again.


……I avoided Clayton after that because I didn’t want
Bobby to ask us to go anywhere with him anymore.
I wasn’t afraid — in fact, I always felt safe
around Bobby, because the bad luck was always happening
……to somebody else — yet I was disturbed,
not by the dead, who, in their way, were composed
………and well out of it, but by the dying,
who were going through all kinds of things
……you can only imagine taking place in some medieval
torture chamber. I know Clayton’s feelings
were hurt because he didn’t know what I was thinking,
and I didn’t, either, since I was acting on
……adolescent instinct and not some careful rationale.

………So that’s another injury right there,
though one I’m sure he got over fairly quickly,
given the celebrated resilience of the young.
……On another level, the scene with the dying boys
must have crash-landed somewhere within me and stayed there
like a corpse in the desert untouched by wind or water,
because sometimes if I see a car at night with
………its dome light on, I feel helpless and freeze up.
And if I smell blood and whiskey in the same breath,
I’ll have dreams in which the dying boys fly at me
out of a red haze and scream, You son of a bitch,
……we didn’t have a good life, it was too short
and it ended badly, do something about it.


David Kirby is the Robert O. Lawton Distinguished Professor of English at Florida State University. His collection The House on Boulevard St.: New and Selected Poems was a finalist for the National Book Award in 2007. Kirby is the author of Little Richard: The Birth of Rock ‘n’ Roll, which the Times Literary Supplement of London called “a hymn of praise to the emancipatory power of nonsense.” Recent books include two collections of poetry, The Biscuit Joint and A Wilderness of Monkeys. See for more information.