Issue #2: Car Picnics, Josh Elbaum

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Car Picnics

On good days,
Zaydee would take me out for a car picnic
in his rusty red Cadillac,
the wide leather seat molded to his vastness,
held him like no human arms could anymore.
The car smelled like old-fashioned handsome
like the cigars he quit when I was born,

His crutches duct taped and bandaged
with the same gauze as his calves,
every time leaving the house
he would loudly refuse the wheelchair.
This is how I learned what pride
sounded like: hollow laugh made of iron,

Before the elephantitis swelled his thighs
into bruise-purple tree stumps,
before I knew him, my grandfather made
his living as a roofer.

As an appetizer, my side of the bargain,
he would drive me around Worcester
and point out every roof he personally built
from residential, to the dome of the capitol.
This is how I learned what pride looked like:
a dome forever reaching towards heaven,
a finger pointing, as if to say
“look how magnificently we can fail”

We always grabbed the best from each joint:
the fries from Burger King,
the shakes from Wendy’s
the burgers from McDonalds
sometimes experimented, always discussed the results:
nuggets with honey mustard or ketchup,
the unforgiveable strangeness of Wendy’s square burger.

Parked in a corner of the lot
eternally devoid of other cars,
I always thought it strange,
seagulls 3 hours inland from the Atlantic
yet there they were, every time
as if waiting for us.
He would joke
how they’d go hungry without our offerings.
this is how I learned what pride tasted like
salty, greasy

I can’t remember the last of these days,
they simply faded,
as traditions do.

When his mind started to go,
I remember my mother’s father
weeping over his useless legs
vice-grip on my hand, he
assured me and also himself
that he once scaled buildings
put roofs over heads.
This is still the oldest man
I have ever seen cry,
and it shook me.

I sometimes wonder if pride
is simply an old man holding tight
to what he has already lost, or
a hollow story he memorizes
to teach his grandson.
Or maybe,
pride is a burger and fries,
daring you to call it ‘unhealthy.’
Maybe the gulls are still there,
waiting for me to return, older
ready to feed mine back to the sky


Josh Elbaum is a weirdo from California who enjoys making things about love and family and food.


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