Car Dealership at 3 A.M.

by Alan Shapiro



Over the lot a sodium aura
within which
above the new cars sprays
of denser many-colored brightnesses
are rising and falling in a time lapse
of a luminous and ghostly
garden forever flourishing
up out of its own decay.

The cars, meanwhile, modest as angels
or like angelic
hoplites, are arrayed
in rows, obedient to orders
they bear no trace of,
their bodies taintless, at attention,
serving the sheen they bear,
the glittering they are,
the sourceless dazzle
that the showcase window
that the showroom floor
weeps for
when it isn’t there –

like patent leather, even the black wheels shine.

Here is the intense
amnesia of the just now
at last no longer longing
in a flowering of lights
beyond which
one by one, haphazardly
the dented, the rusted-through,
metallic Eves and Adams
hurry past, as if ashamed,
their dull beams averted,
low in the historical dark they disappear into.

Notes on the Poem

Our fascination continues with another selection from the thematically linked poems from Alan Shapiro's 2013 Griffin Poetry Prize shortlisted collection Night of the Republic. "Car Dealership at 3 A.M." is yet another setting in which Shapiro examines normally busy locations when they are devoid of their usual human presence. Shapiro has previously led us to places such as a stone church and a hotel lobby to surmise, in effect, how those settings come to life when there is literally no life in them. Compared to those poems, this selection is distinguished by a particular sense of longing. Central to a car dealership is, of course, cars. The cars here are wistfully personified: "The cars, meanwhile, modest as angels or like angelic hoplites, are arrayed in rows, obedient to orders" It's as if the cars miss the salesman and receptionists and mechanics with whom they spend their days (at 3 p.m., not 3 a.m.) and are hopefully and devotedly awaiting their return. As one review of this collection posits, "whatever the setting, the places people create and inhabit in these poems seem to live beyond and without us" ... but in this case, the place seems to miss us. Considered more broadly, Shapiro's collection might remind some readers of the 2007 non-fiction book The World Without Us, in which author Alan Weisman theorized about how both the natural world and built environments would evolve or devolve if humans suddenly disappeared. A description of the book refers to "Earth's tremendous capacity for self-healing" once we, the disrupting and invasive species, are removed from the picture. But does Shapiro suggest that after "the intense amnesia of the just now" ... the world might want us to return?

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