“Hitching a ride with Cassandra” and why I wrote this poem

Hitching a ride with Cassandra (formerly titled, “My dream of the tear-shaped car”)

I’m feeling down.
I’m heading back where I started.
I’m hitching back.
The land is wide open,
Cold and blustery.
I decide to stand right where I am
Instead of walking.
I’m too tired to walk another step.
All I can do is stick out my thumb
And hope that someone will pity me.
A car shaped like a tear stops.
(Oblong and tapering to the back.)
I squeeze under a flap in the rear
That the driver secures after I am seated.
Once the “tear” is sealed
We begin moving.
There is a woman in the back with me.
I can barely see her,
Or anything else for that matter.
My eyes are tearing up.
I’m not crying,
But tears are streaming from my eyes!
How far are you going? the woman asks.
I don’t know, I say, trying to dry my eyes.
(I knew before where I was going
Before I got in,
But now I don’t seem to know anything.
It is as if my mind has been wiped clean.)
What do you see? asks the woman.
I try to see her, but all I see is a blur.
I frantically blot my eyes with my sleeve
Trying to bring her into focus.
Just tell me what do you see, she repeats.
(I begin to see the rudiments of a face
And the color of her hair —  red.)
I see that you have red hair, I say.
And your eyes are blue.
No, I mean, (she says) what do you “See”?
I say, Sometimes I see what is coming.
Is that what you mean?
Right, (she says) and no one believes us.

Us?

My name is Cassandra, she says.
And, yes, no one believes us.
It’s very sad.
Where are you going? I hear myself asking.
To a place where I can just live, she says.
I settle back for a long ride.

A friend of mine, whose insights I respect, upon reading this poem, offered this critique: “It has a made up quality to it that puts me off. The drive in the car and the other details have a generic feeling to them which tells me that I’m in your mind and not in your “felt” experience,i.e. your world . . . I’m sure you could discuss the ideas behind it. But in the end I don’t think poetry is so much about ideas as feelings . . . The metaphor of the “tear shaped” car is kind of heavy handed I thought. Then again, it could have come from a dream. Did it? If it did I’d be curious about the other images in that dream.”

Here is my response to my friend: The poem is put together from parts of a dream, the same
dream. There was a waitress in the first half of the dream, a redhead named Cassandra, who
stood out as someone who had something very special about her. And she was interested in
me; I felt a connection with her and it was mutual. Then the dream ended with me hitching
(exactly as I described) and getting picked up by a tear-shaped car and the bit about the eyes
watering actually happened in the dream, and not knowing where I was going and trying to see
the woman in the back. So, there was a woman next to me but it wasn’t Cassandra. So I put
Cassandra in the back and what she said was invented. But when she said, They don’t believe
“us”, that felt right. That is something that the dream-Cassandra might have said.
As for the tear-shaped car, if I made it up (like something in The Phantom Toll Booth, if I wrote
The Phantom Toll Booth), it would be far-fetched in the sense of something that I had to reach
for from some high shelf in my imagination of odds and ends that I haven’t found any uses for;
as if I might, in such a hypothetical instance say, I can’t just write about a normal car picking me up
because that isn’t interesting enough, so . . . Oh, there is that tear-shaped car in that old closet in the
back of my mind. I’ll use that!         Anyway, it didn’t happen that way. The tear-shaped car actually
picked me up and it was very real.  I could see in the dream what it was made of etc.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Well, I agree with my friend, because he is partly right, there is a “made-up” (fabricated?) aspect
to the poem. It is half-made up and half imaginally “just-so”. I wanted to have Cassandra in the
poem, and to use the poem to explore my connection with her. And I loved the the idea of being
inside the tear and wanted to see if I could develop the dream-metaphor of the tear serving as
our vehicle that would convey us to a place where we could “just live” and not have to be seers
anymore.
When poems don’t resonate or fail to connect with the reader, the words tend to become all-
important or self-important, almost arbitrary, as if the language is the poem. But I think my
friend is right when he says that, for a poem to work, the feeling at the core of a poem needs to
come across and language alone can’t make that happen. (The romantic poets, of the second
half of the 19th century, were good at writing poetry that got carried away by beautiful
language, but the ideas in the poetry were often over-worked and generic.) Sometimes it is hard
to tell why a poem is not communicating. Is the lack in the reading or in the poem itself?
Adolescent poetry is often all-feeling and short on ideas; its meaning remains elusive because
the poem is self-referential, even if the subject seems to be about things like love or life or
death or despair or the larger world. The whole poem is a mirror, so the reader doesn’t stand a
chance.
The story in my Cassandra  poem is quite clear to me. I’m not sure if it is clear to anyone else!
Riding inside (being sealed inside) a giant tear allows me to be inside my sorrow in a way that
allows me to stop indulging my woes (i.e., how sick I am, how occasionally lonely I am,
how homeless or hopeless I feel at times). . .to dry my tears, which are only water(!) and see
beyond my normal ability to see . . . To “See” what Cassandra is seeing for both of us . . . which
leads to an understanding that I am a seer (as are many poets) and that part of my sorrow is
related to my tragic sense of not being believed by my own people.
This dream, that begins with me hitching back to where I started (being stuck in a loop), ends
with us heading on a journey to a place where we can “just live” . . . In other words, that,
perhaps mythic,  place where we don’t have to be seers anymore because life is flowing. The
tear that we are inside is a kind of Trojan Horse in a way, to get me through the great walls of
my sorrows that I have personalized and that have blinded me to my own powers to See. The
dream doesn’t say where our destination is. Cassandra doesn’t say where it is, but the driver
knows the way and the vehicle of our sadness can get us there.
A note on Cassandra: The daughter of Priam, King of the ancient city of Troy, she was a
prophetess who was fated to never be taken seriously in spite of her consummate credibility.
She could also understand the language of animals.

 

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