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Erin Belieu

Erin Belieu

Erin Belieu is the author of four poetry collections, all from Copper Canyon Press, including Slant Six, forthcoming in September 2014. Her recent poems have appeared in magazines such as The New Yorker, Ploughshares, Slate and Willow Springs.

Time Machine

           Perceptions and memories become tinged
           with an indefinable quality, as with a kind of heat
           or light, so novel that now and then, as we stare
           at our own self, we wonder how it can really exist...

                                        —Time And Free Will, Henri Bergson

Commit Random Acts Of Kindness
is what the bumper sticker says
on the Volvo that cuts me off
in traffic, driven by a woman
who then gives me the finger.
           And without even meaning to,
she builds a functional time machine,
defying the laws of physics!  
Spark of Well's dream and Vonnegut's
slaughter, she's made this genius device,
bringing present to past and past to
future. With one skinny digit, she flips
a lever that busts me down to my
molecules, dissolved like the salt
in a ramen packet;
           because now I'm whooshing
through the continuum, weightless as
a deposit slip in a bank's pneumatic
tube, no longer composed as me,
           a middle-aged lady eating sushi
off the seat of a Volkswagen sedan,
late to fetch my son from school. Instead,
           here she is, my former self,
unseen for twenty years.
                     Who is this girl?
In the rearview, I look pretty
unpromising, a state school scrub,
the missing link of thrift store chic.
And no matter the dimension,
           I'm late for work, racing to
the record store where bong hits are
corporate policy and Christian Death's
Only Theatre Of Pain is racked under
"Gospel." Of course,
                     I recall, this other me,
this place, this day, this mostly
unsympathetic girl, who doesn't know
how soon she'll be fired for sleeping
with the boss.
           And it's now, in this moment,
when the back flow of time and my
immediate NOW-ness are fusing
together,  I know
                     what comes next—
the other finger:
casual, infamous, locked these years
in the gulag of my memory, that finger,
attached to a different woman—
she in her silver Mercedes, who,
by the rule of time travel, blows through
this heavy traffic, forcing me off
the road. Again.
           In this past universe,
she's right on time, still looking chilled,
vacuum sealed, cool as an aspic
served at a benefit luncheon with
a garnish I wouldn't know not to eat.  
Smug as a comic book villain,
           the woman in her Mercedes
has returned to flip me this same
snide salute, both rank and rancor
etched in her gesture.
           And where could I be
but in my beat Plymouth Duster,
muscle of Bondo and bad intentions,
mine for the three hundred dollars
it's taken this year to save?
           Time unspools, and here I sit,
road-rashed, knotted in the service
ditch of my humiliation,
           snagged in the past, which is  
present, thinking, it should be harder
to feel this angry all the time
           That I should be embarrassed
by what happens next:
swerving back to the road, I make it
my mission to stalk this bitch
in her silver Mercedes, roaring
once more through creamy suburbs,
hunting her down cul-de-sacs
with careful lawns, their safety
the illusion I think I will never buy.
           In future, do I call this a moment
of satisfaction? Find it righteous?
My slant-6 gunning up her tailpipe;
the Wild Kingdom death scene
of her composure as she scrambles
to get away?
                     And then, mid-chase,
I'm out, lifted bodily, back to being
this person of a certain age, my semi-
luxury sedan, take-out warming on
the seat. I'm back, where the woman
and her bumper sticker are now
turning left.
           This world resumes.
At the light, we want to move
along. And yes,
why wouldn't we? For this woman
in her Volvo, I don't equal a flea
on the ass of a thought anymore.
        Commit Random Acts of Kindness
is what the bumper sticker says.
I recall I'm late to get my son.
Blink blink,
          goes her signal,
                     blink, blink.


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