Poetry: Frances of the Cadillac by Laura Van Prooyen

Immediately, Van Prooyen gets inside the reader’s mouth. From there, she works outward, shaking the limbs and the feet and the hands, convincing the reader’s body to get in the car and go along for the ride. What a ride it is—weighty and mysterious, faintly dangerous. The reader doesn’t need much convincing, not with imagery and language like this.


Frances of the Cadillac

Under her tongue, there was a story.
In her mouth, nails. Frances hammered license plates
to the back wall of her garage. There

hang the years that sunk like a foot in loose soil.
That rusted like a hinge. Whose hand or what machine
etched the numbers that cruised along

in the exhaust of a town that no longer exists?
This is what happens when I check my wristwatch.

Frances drives her leather-topped Cadillac
between the electrical signals of my brain. There’s
a railroad crossing, and I don’t understand

the way she’s looking at me. Her body says something
happened. Her arms so thin, the veins visible
when she rolls up her sleeves. Still, if I were drowning

I know Frances would save me. She might throw
a string of black pearls. She might offer a broom handle,
worn from her sweeping. She’d pull me to the edge,

push pennies from my lungs. But it’s the bells
of the crossing that make me unable to breathe.


(Reprinted with permission, this poem originally appeared in Ploughshares Issue 125.)



Laura Van Prooyen

Van Prooyen is author of two collections of poetry: Inkblot and Altar (Pecan Grove Press 2006) and Our House Was on Fire, nominated by Philip Levine, awarded the McGovern Prize (Ashland Poetry Press 2015) and the 2015 Writers' League of Texas Poetry Book Award. Recent work appears in The American Poetry Review, Boston Review, and The Southern Review, among others. She is a recipient of grants from the American Association of University Women and the Barbara Deming Memorial Fund, and also has been awarded a Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg prize and the Annual Glenna Luschei Award from Prairie Schooner. Van Prooyen earned a B.A. at Purdue University, an M.A. at The University of Illinois at Chicago, and an M.F.A. in Poetry at Warren Wilson College.

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