Cheering for the Car in Last Place

Two poems by Carolyn Oliver

Cheering for the Car in Last Place

To the woman at the NASCAR race cheering only for the winless drivers

You know not to trust luck or easy money: I could tell

by the way you ignored the casino owner who started the race
and the Yeti-toting college boys in their boat shoes, gawking

at your orange bra top, a throwback with the Tide logo 

printed across its front. Fearless as a gerbera daisy, that top, 
and oh how I admired the sly joke about good clean fun
once I realized it actually read Tits, how I wished for you
always the luxury the teenager who sat in front of us must feel, 
the heedless, hopeful way she draped her hair over the bleachers, 
letting it frizz in the mist just to get some air on her neck.
You smiled at her. There must be a line long as this racetrack 
of people you’ve comforted with whatever you had in your purse:

tissues, peppermints wrapped in cellophane, tampax, loose change. 
I lost you in the rain after you draped a faded beach towel
(one you must have brought from home) over your shoulders, 
but I think maybe I saw you again—in the windsock at the helipad 
flinging its orange at the relentless low sky, or in the helicopter, 
ready, at once forlorn and giddy that today nobody needed saving.

Foreign Affairs

Back in the city after my lover’s funeral
I met with a man who had treated me,
during our months together, like a chore.
He had just moved to the city to write poems,
which he’d convinced me I shouldn’t bother doing
because nothing about my life was interesting.
He was sorry for my loss, he said. 
He handed me a mug I’d left at his place, 

a serious gray mug sent by a magazine
I used to pretend I enjoyed reading.
He wanted my gratitude for bringing this mug
across four states, my gratitude for remembering 
it was once mine. Clean, empty, it reminded me 
that for a long time all I could manage
was to get high and fake orgasms and try
not to die, which I am still learning how to do.

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