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,
unbreakable.

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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