The Uphill Side of the Story

That rusting, ragtop Mercury was all we had to get us there.
Muffler wobbling low enough to tattoo asphalt on a tight turn,
loops of clothesline holding fast the hinged-wrong, rear-right door.

Coldest December since God was a boy, the crabber warned,
as he bought us beers in the back booth of the Hideaway.
Heap-a shit you got out there won’t make it to Leonardtown.

The bar was warm, lulling, but you were all balls and fuel,
so we peeled out on Route 5 with a jaw-whacking clatter
fit to wake the staid Catholic ghosts spinning in St. Mary’s soil.

Despite the wind that blew in salty, keening from the river bend,
we cranked down our windows to thin the carbon monoxide fumes,
while our teeth and bones rattled like cartoon skeletons.

In Hagerstown the snow stung in slantwise on raw faces, knuckles,
but the car shuddered steady as a lover who’d been faithful for years.
It wasn’t till Hancock that the grinding bucked us, the black smoke rose

up over the hood in snaking coils and roiled inside our breathing.
Still we very nearly made it before the muffler fell off in the snow,
before the motor popped like cleft glass, then faded away to nothing.

We left a trail of blowing boot prints that last steep mile into town.
Never again would I be as sure of who we were as that night we walked
together, up into the blue Alleghenies and over the Cumberland line.