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Image by Caroline Forbes

The Back Seat of My Mother's Car

Julia Copus


The Back Seat of My Mother's Car

Julia Copus


Poem introduction

This whole poem takes place over a few seconds. It describes the moment when a mother drives away from her husband for the last time, with their little girl sitting in the back seat. It's written in a new form which I developed while I was writing my first book. The form is called 'Specular', after the Latin for a 'mirror', because the second half of the poem uses the same lines as the first, but in reverse order, as if the whole thing is looking back at itself in a mirror. Here the car window acts as a reflecting device in the middle of the poem. The poem is spoken by the little girl.

The Back Seat of My Mother's Car

The Back Seat of My Mother's Car

We left before I had time
to comfort you, to tell you that we nearly touched
hands in that vacuous half-dark. I wanted
to stem the burning waters running over me like tiny
rivers down my face and legs, but at the same time I was reaching out
for the slit in the window where the sky streamed in,
cold as ether, and I could see your fat mole-fingers grasping
the dusty August air. I pressed my face to the glass;
I was calling to you - Daddy! - as we screeched away into
the distance, my own hand tingling like an amputation.
You were mouthing something I still remember, the noiseless words
piercing me like that catgut shriek that flew up, furious as a sunset
pouring itself out against the sky. The ensuing silence
was the one clear thing I could decipher -
the roar of the engine drowning your voice,
with the cool slick glass between us.

With the cool slick glass between us,
the roar of the engine drowning, your voice
was the one clear thing I could decipher -
pouring itself out against the sky, the ensuing silence
piercing me like that catgut shriek that flew up, furious as a sunset.
You were mouthing something: I still remember the noiseless words,
the distance, my own hand tingling like an amputation.
I was calling to you, Daddy, as we screeched away into
the dusty August air. I pressed my face to the glass,
cold as ether, and I could see your fat mole-fingers grasping
for the slit in the window where the sky streamed in
rivers down my face and legs, but at the same time I was reaching out
to stem the burning waters running over me like tiny
hands in that vacuous half-dark. I wanted
to comfort you, to tell you that we nearly touched.
We left before I had time.


'The Back Seat of My Mother's Car' from The Shuttered Eye (Bloodaxe, 1995), © Julia Copus 1995, used by permission of the author and the publisher

Recordings

Julia Copus Reading from Her Poems

1Love, Like Water

2In Defence of Adultery

3Hymn to All the Men I'll Never Love

4Topsell's Beasts

5A Soft-edged Reed of Light

6This is the Poem in which I Have Not Left You

7The Back Seat of My Mother's Car

8Digging the Pond

9Easter Reunion

10Lamb's Electronic Antibiotic

11Forgiveness

12Glimpses of Caribou

13Cleave

14Moderate Restaurant Clatter

15Atrophy

16Miss Haversham's Letter

16Soft Parts

18Wardes

19Stars Moving Westwards in a Winter Garden

20Esprit de l'Escalier

21An Easy Passage

22Impossible As It Seems