Lisa Kerr’s poem, “The Borrowed Car,” resonates deeply. It captures with great poignancy the ordinary moments we experience before we are struck by a sudden diagnosis, or the possibility of one. Before the disruption of
"Tomorrow we’ll miss our afternoon flight home
because the call comes: Just one more test to confirm it."
There is such innocence in the unknowing, in that blissfully ignorant “before.”
Kerr describes the happy, small details of visiting San Francisco in a friend’s borrowed car. She and her companion are driving up the steep hill to the summit of the world’s most crooked lane, Lombard Street. The only details they are aware of are things that would thrill and charm a tourist:
a chutes and ladders of pastel houses.
Blue stone under thrusting bougainvillea.
Pink stucco, a home of small ears.
In my own piece, “Rounds,” I experienced my own moment of ordinary happiness, frozen in time before life was twisted awry. My husband and I “planned on browsing a bookstore, then a restaurant: our usual date.” I had even anticipated what I’d order, my favorite spanakopita. But I was worried about sudden bloating in my pregnancy, and we made a stop at his medical office to check my blood pressure. That was the turning point, our before and after, when the diagnosis of pre-eclampsia threw us into crisis.
Kerr’s poem offers a foreshadowing:
We crest the steepest hill, see only hood as we tilt,
pray the pavement will rise up to meet us.
Tomorrow my body will become a borrowed car.
But we do not know this yet.
And after the delayed flight (during which don’t know what the additional test revealed or confirmed), even an image recognized from the “before” seems different.
On our new flight, a couple we saw quarreling
in Chinatown will be seated one aisle over.
Reconciled, they’ll float into each other
and away like lanterns in a gathering storm.
They’ll push their palms together
into one shared fortune,
kiss like bright cars crashing.
This intimate gesture, a kiss, is now heightened by the realization of mortality, that the car of the body is truly only ever borrowed, that it may crash at any moment.
Kerr does a beautiful job of bringing into focus that turning point, of capturing those final moments before knowledge of mortality fissures our ordinary future. The blissful before.
Susan Ito is author of the mini-memoir, The Mouse Room. She co-edited the anthology A Ghost At Heart’s Edge: Stories & Poems of Adoption. She is a creative nonfiction editor at Literary Mama, and her work has appeared in Growing Up Asian American, Choice, Hip Mama, The Bellevue Literary Review, Making More Waves and elsewhere. She has performed her solo show, The Ice Cream Gene, around the United States. She writes and teaches at the San Francisco Writers’ Grotto, at Bay Path University and Mills College. Her website is http://susanito.com.
© 2015 Intima: A Journal of Narrative Medicine