The Perils of Portage, 1990*


I sleep uneasily upon a thoroughfare of skeletons

where Portage grows beyond the downtown's

narrow gage into a Nascar avenue. I lie along

an open six-block light-free speedway spiking

north to Michigan, oversewn in spruce and poplar,

no defense against the midnight catapult attack.


On weekend nights these flats attract Andretti

wannabes pumping flaming tail pipes underneath

their decibels. Half a dozen mash-ups have

desertified the roadscape, scraped the promenade

into arboreal disaster, and sounded the alarm

it's time to exit to the country.


Forget the minor logging that didn't make

the headlines and listen to this catalog

of unpremeditated takings. Three years ago

a Bettenhausen harvested three sapling birches

with his Cheve's grill. His 'night-blind' plea

did not move the widow who had spaced them

frost-like springs ago, as she stared the smoking

stumps, razored rolling sixty-five at least.


Next June an after-graduation run unearthed

my neighbor's only Christmas evergreen. The sergeant

surmised the bumpers dive-bombed from the curb

powered when the front tires blew. The teen-age

Gordon shed no insight either, and Jack hasn't strung

an outdoor yule string since.


Last June a drunken maniac trashed my honeysuckle

hedge with a stolen Lincoln Continental. The twisted

remnants lost their spines forever, with elbows where

their canopies should be.  Every summer Saturday

assumptions of ineptitude from jogging passers-by

pained and shamed my hapless clippered hands.


Then this December, at three AM an airy

Luyendyk-alike took out two-score feet

of the white ranch fence we painted twice



last fall. He claimed he 'drove slow but the curve

was slick.' The silver maple's bleeding gash

and two Caddy hubcaps strewn around

the doorstep made me dubious.


I gave up the greenhouse railing. It became

too intense to build an empty nest in town.

We removed to New Carlisle where roads are rare

and groves are thick and trees breathe freely

without fear of Rutherfords with Indy fever.


                        Jerome L. McElroy



            *The Poet’s Art  44 (December 2011): 54-55.