1101: 1971 Pontiac LeMans by Thomas Bolt

20240422 Slowdown

1101: 1971 Pontiac LeMans by Thomas Bolt


I’m Major Jackson and this is The Slowdown.

Last week, my stepfather died. I had not set eyes on him since my mother’s funeral, twenty-eight years ago. Despite this, being the writer in the family, I was asked to pen his obituary.

I kept my distance over the years. I worried about my suppressed anger. Throughout high school, I lived in his house with fear, as did my mother and my brother. Every part of our home and our behavior had to be flawless. He didn’t parent; he ruled. We projected perfection to our neighbors. He was a complicated man who inherited a style of disciplining that was abusive, especially to my mother, who loved him fiercely.

Writing his obituary, with the help of my aunts, was surprisingly healing. I kept the summary of his life positive. I did not allude to his shortcomings, reminding myself that he was cherished by someone, even if not by me. I invoked his passions: Philadelphia sports teams, games of chess, and cars—especially sports cars.

When he entered my life, at age seven, I recall him pulling up to the front of our house in a sleek, bright blue Corvette. It was like one of my little Matchbox cars had come to life. Well-dressed, he wore Levi’s and leather boots. He shook my hand with manicured nails. There was something overly composed about him, as though he were masking a vague insecurity.

I recall moments of petty jealousies whenever my mother expressed her love for me or praised me for a report card full of A’s. At dinner, he even went so far as to tell my brother that she loved me more than she loved my brother. Later, I learned this was a projection from his childhood, his own fear of not feeling loved. He, too, was raised by a domineering and abusive stepfather.

Or maybe, I was a psychological stand-in for my father, my mother’s previous relationship; maybe he was saying, my mother loved my father more than she loved him. It was sad and complicated.

His other favorite car was a champagne-colored Porsche 944, which he kept in the garage, covered. He would only drive it Sundays between the hours of 7:00am and 11:00am. I once broached the idea of picking up my prom date in it, which elicited a stream of disparaging comments and scolding remarks.

To this day, I am ambivalent about cars. I’ve bad associations. He hit my mother once while she was driving. Although she died from cancer, I cannot shake that she died before then, from a broken heart.

Today’s poem reminds me how, in some instances, automobiles are charged with a certain kind of masculinity that can be beautiful and destructive at the same time.

1971 Pontiac LeMans
by Thomas Bolt

Auto in sunlight: every trace of gloss
Is dulled a rusting green. 
Even the fenders are a dirty chrome 
Which blunts light like a pine log;
Still, it runs.

This is the car someone abandons
At a grassy roadside,
Like an old punt, rotten-hulled,
Sunk in river muck above the seats.
Near this realization,

It will do 90 still.
Or, filled with gasoline, will drive all night 
Toward any destination;
It can kill. 
This is the real world.

"1971 Pontiac LeMans" by Thomas Bolt. Used by permission of the poet.