Ode on a Midlife VW

By Craig van Rooyen

Featured Art by Edouard Baldus

—After Matthew Dickman


Parked next to its German cousins,
the van’s a message to the office bourgeoisie:
Hey look, not me. I’ve got a 4-cylinder pop-top
escape pod back to 1983 with a picnic table in back,
motherfuckers. I could be a tortoise, tent in shell,
ambling away from a mortgage.
The kind of tortoise that shows up in Tallahassee
after ten years of grazing on roadside dandelions.
Driving home, I keep an eye out for Gandalf
like maybe he’ll have his thumb out at the city limit sign.

If I saw him I would stop like it’s no big deal
and tell him to throw his staff in back.
I need to believe there’s still time for me
to take a bro trip in a van with a wizard.
No questing anymore. No destination.
Mount Doom’s done its thing. Sauron’s dead.

Just a sort-of-old guy and a wizard in a VW van,
sharing a bag of Cheetos and a Dos Equis six-pack.
Maybe we’d drive back East where
things are still green this time of year.
It could be a little like rewinding time,
headlights unwinding the two lanes up ahead,
“The Grey One” pointing out a barn owl
flashing through the highbeams.
Maybe after three beers and a full moon
I’d finally see the really big picture—
how we’re all just hydrogen
squashed into other stuff by stars.

It could be the KLUV-in-the-desert-
Jesus-is-your-friend-drive-until-dawn road trip.
All my life I’ve tied my ties,
polished my shoes, said my vows,
then let my people down.
But Gandalf doesn’t care. The road trip
would be all honesty and wonder:
The you’ve-made-your-bed-and-slept-in-it-for-too-long-
now-drive-away-with-it-in-a-van road trip.
Road trip of acceptance. My arches
have collapsed and occasionally I shave my ears.
Who cares? No one’s coming to rescue us
because we’re way past rescuing. I loved you.
I hurt you. I changed the tire and drove away
in a VW van. And maybe just before dawn,
the wizard would elbow me and point with a shrug
to a Waffle House like why the hell not?
Inside, the night-shift waitress would be taking off
her apron and moving to a window
to watch the sun come up.
Maybe she’d call me Love and serve me bad coffee
in a chipped mug. Maybe her name would be Grace.
And maybe she’d pull off her hairnet and take out
the bobby pins one by one, shaking her head,
letting her long hair down at last.


Craig van Rooyen holds an MFA in poetry from Pacific University. He lives and works in San Luis Obispo, CA. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in 32 Poems, Narrative, Rattle, Southern Humanities Review, Southern Poetry Review, Willow Springs, and elsewhere. He is the winner of the 2014 Rattle Poetry Prize, and runner-up for the 2018 Auburn Witness Prize.

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