Rites of Passage

Jul 13, 2018

Today’s poem is “Rites of Passage” by Karen Lie-Nielsen. She lives in midcoast Maine and her writing has appeared in Maine magazine, The Comstock Review, Poetry East, and at Wordgathering.com. Her chapbook Handbuzz and Other Voices centers on her experiences growing up with deaf parents.

She writes, “[This] poem is mostly a true story.  I did get a job as a car-hop when I was about 14. I remember it was a hot summer that year and my family was gravely concerned that my brother had joined the army. There was no doubt he would be sent to Vietnam. I was a very bad car-hop, never got the hang of it. Consequently, I didn't last long in the business. My brother did come back from the service in one piece, but even so, no one was ever the same. Not him, not me.”

Rites of Passage
by Karyn Lie-Nielsen

You’re fourteen,
the new car hop at the Dairy Castle Drive-In.
It is nineteen sixty-eight and the heat is on.
Your brother has been drafted into the army.
Leaving in a few days to fly Hueys
over jungles a million miles away.
He won’t be coming back.
Meanwhile, trying to secure collapsible trays
onto car doors modeled after the Edsel,
you spill each one. Contraptions
clatter to the gravel like gunshots.
Root beer, French fries, cheeseburgers, wasted.
Ketchup smelling metallic and salty
drips on the driver’s side
of each vehicle you serve.
Children in the back seat
don’t know whether to laugh or cry.
From your point of view, the ground
looks like something on the six o’clock news.
Squares of paper napkins lift from the crash site
like thin handkerchiefs you might have used
if you had only known
what was going to happen.

Poem copyright © 2018 Karyn Lie-Nielsen.