by Julie Brooks Barbour

The key tries to start the engine
but the engine won’t turn over,
and the effort, the almost turn so frequent
it’s like birdsong, on and on—

I want it to catch.
I want that student to get home.
I know that feeling, stuck—

me on the side of I-85 the night after finals
outside McAdenville
drawing tourists with its Christmas lights.
My engine overheated,
a man with a mullet yelled from his car
he had a tow bar and could pull me
to the next exit.

Before the mullet man,
a father and his son saw me, called 911,
told me to stay in the car and lock my doors,
so I could thank the man
and wave him on.

My heart fluttered, the night encircling
the white Pontiac 6000 my parents bought
to take me to school and back,
though it was barely bringing me back.
Stuck until roadside assistance took me to a phone
and I could call home,

stuck at a gas station
until my father and brother arrived
with milk jugs of water
to cool the overheated engine.

I wanted the motor to sputter
before anyone arrived,
proof I could be self-sufficient.
I wanted to hear the sputtering I hear now,
a motor kicking into life and loud,

muffler spitting black exhaust.
It leaves
but I’m mistaken:

the student continues working the engine
while chapel bells mark the hour,
nothing turning but time.
Meanwhile that chirp,
that almost start.

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Julie Brooks Barbour’s chapbook, Come To Me and Drink, is forthcoming from Finishing Line Press in 2012. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Waccamaw, Kestrel, UCity Review, Diode, The Whistling Fire, and Bigger Than They Appear: Anthology of Very Short Poems.