Poetry: The Suburban Car Dealership Shuttle Driver by Zilka Joseph

Poetry has a way of elevating character profiles into something more, and Zilka Joseph’s clear, relatable narrative here does just that. “The Suburban Car Dealership Shuttle Driver” is both a person we know and an experience we’ve had; his hard eyes in the review mirror never that far away in America.

The Suburban Car Dealership Shuttle Driver

Hell I have no idea where she wants to go

says the shuttle driver as he glares at me
with his hard gray eyes and as I tell him where I want to go
he says Huh What What’s that you say

Face unsmiling old arms sagging he turns completely
in the seat to look me in the eye asks again what’s that you say
I repeat I live near Trader Joe’s his face burns red
says I don’t get it don’t get it

The new Trader Joe’s store I say slowly
the one opposite Oakland University you know

He could be a little younger than my father
I know he doesn’t think he’s hard of hearing
raising his voice he tells me he can’t understand immigrants

I say our accents are different can be confusing
tell him I’m an English teacher have been for 16 years
No kidding he says looks at me hard
swerves to miss a car

Don’t they know they should speak English if they want to live here
My father came from all the way from Russia
he knew English and even Polish he did he did

but me I don’t know no Russian
I’m not one for languages and that kind of stuff
And you he asks Four languages I say was brought up bilingual
Huh no kidding he says
his driving’s jerky

foot heavy on the brake stares at me hard
forgets where to turn to pick up the woman waiting
near Nino Salvaggios’s Tells me twice

she needs to be dropped off first though he picked me up
first Ah how he has to keep everyone happy

Now why do they all come here
Yeah yeah high salaries
I know I know
What if you want a new life I say
for you for your kids Yeah hmmm he says chews his cheek
asks do you have family in your country
Yes, parents in their eighties friends students yes

He runs a red light looks puzzled asks do you see them often
Once in two years maybe too expensive I miss them

He’s missed Nino’s long ago he brakes hard frowns
clucks Hell did you see it he asks we passed it I say
Hell you should’ve told me swings the old van around

mid-turn says I retired from Ford Financial
they fired contractors couldn’t understand them
wouldn’t speak English and the other day huh

had this old man to drop off an oriental he was from Chrysler
Hell I had no idea where he wanted to go
They should all learn English

They do I say they do
some are better at it than others
they struggle hard all day
all day like my students at Oakland Community College
working shifts working three jobs working at grammar
late into the night so they can go to college rush to class eyes red
become doctors lawyers engineers

Yeah he says
yeah like that cancer doctor I took my wife to see
Had to drop him he was a…can’t remember what they call
cancer doctors huh had a long name too and boy
we couldn’t get a word he said
Had to let him go sucks a quick breath
Does your husband speak English

I say fluently No kidding he says

Where my husband works I say there are folks from all over the world
speaking English with different accents and many
don’t understand each other but it’s OK

No kidding he says and bellows loudly whacks my hand pushes back
his Redwings cap with both hands
The van wanders Cars honk all around I wince
It is fifty minutes
since I stepped into this van It is only fifteen from the dealership
on Rochester Road to my apartment Here we are he says
squints as I open the door says You’re an interesting woman

I try to smile I am so drained We learn
yes we learn from each other I say
I hand him a newsletter from the community college
point to a story written by my student from Sierra Leone
whose arm was cut off when she was a little girl
and who lives with her American parents
He frowns at the paper and at me
his lips are taut

Have a nice day I say thank you

What’s that you say he asks gray eyes harder than before
face unsmiling arms sagging
he turns completely in the seat asks again What
What’s that
you say



Zilka Joseph

Zilka Joseph was nominated twice for a Pushcart. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Poetry, Kenyon Review Online, Michigan Quarterly Review, Asia Literary Review, Mantis, Review Americana, Quiddity, and in anthologies such as Cheers To Muses: Contemporary Works by Asian American Women and Uncommon Core. Lands I Live In and What Dread, her chapbooks, were nominated for a PEN America award and a Pushcart respectively. Her new book of poems Sharp Blue Search of Flame published by Wayne State University Press, was a finalist for the Forward Indie Book Award. She has a BA in English and a BEd (a post-graduate teaching degree), from the University of Calcutta, India, an MA in Comparative Literature from Jadavpur University, Calcutta, India, and an MFA in Poetry from the University of Michigan., Ann Arbor. She teaches creative writing workshops, and is an independent editor and manuscript coach. www.zilkajoseph.com

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