Richard Manuel Crashes His Cadillac

Russell Thorburn

Russell Thorburn

Richard Manuel Crashes His Cadillac, Woodstock, New York was accepted as part of the MSU Library Short Edition call for work on the theme of "Home," in coordination with the MSU Broad Art Museum's exhibit Where We Dwell. Russell Thorburn is a recipient of a National Endowment Fellowship and the first poet laureate of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. He lives in Marquette, where he sometimes performs with his sextet Radio On. His one-act play of a retro-alternate reality, Gimme Shelter, was set for a premiere at the Black Box Theatre but was cancelled by the pandemic.

His world speaks to him through the windshield:
one crack dividing his before and after
of alcohol consumption and love for a woman.
The deer caught in his headlights turns to say
you can kill me if you want, but I am not going to move.
Its head turned up for the crash
and Richard Manuel sees not a deer now
but a wife who got away through the woods
troubled by his drinking and nights across the line.
Jane, he cries out as if he could warn her
before his chrome dented from accidents
collides with her thoughtful body.
Her name can't save him from the crash
on this mountainside and he sees it almost
in slow motion now, into the deer, then veering
off the road and a splintering thud.
He listens to the radiator hissing. Touching his mouth
that hit the rearview mirror, he sees his fingers
are the color of blackberries in the dim interior light.
He closes his eyes for a minute to feel
the earth spinning through the snowy whispers,
speaks the names Paula and Joshua,
his children, as if to slow that last revolution.
Tearing off his coat, he slides from his seat
to walk the cold mist and as above
a moon drives careful of the many stars.

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