A Source of Light in a Mechanic’s Phrase: A Poem

Tuesday, February 15, 2011 - 7:13 am

A Source of Light in a Mechanic’s Phrase: A Poem

A Mechanic's Light
(photo: Eric Tastad/Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons)
Last summer, soon after returning from meeting my new niece, now nearly nine months old, the check engine light on my ’98 Honda hatchback came on. We brought it in to a mechanic’s shop that we hadn’t been to before. All the men who worked there were wearing these shirts that looked like bowling uniforms to me, with the script of Import Authority dancing across their backs. I had entered another world.
When we returned to pick it up, I looked down at the receipt and saw the phrase “Diagnose: cause of light.” Once again, I had entered another world.
For a moment I forgot the reason I brought it in, and my mind flashed through all the causes of light, the clearest being my new niece Clara — how the scent of her had etched into my skin, lifting its way across from California back to Florida with me. I loved how an ordinary mechanical phrase sounded so beautiful. This poem became my own way of diagnosing the daily and varied causes of light in my own life.

Diagnose: cause of light

is what the receipt
from my mechanic said.
In the top corner
of my computer screen,
discoverable is checked.
Sometimes words find us
right where we need them,
drive us out of our machines,
back to other luminary sources.
Back to meeting my month-old
niece whose name means
clear and light, the scent
of dried milk and cantaloupe,
the weight of her in my lap,
watching her hair grow, my
sister and I in a backseat again,
singing. A soft red square
of my husband’s handkerchief.
The last cardinal of the morning,
and the dog noticing the feeder
for the first time, head cocked
at the window, tail tilting
with the excitement of wing
motion, falling seed. Back to
leaving, then coming home
again, that moment when the sink
has shrunk and late summer light
settles in behind the trees.

Cause of Light
(photo: John Mann)

Christine PorebaChristine Poreba is a poet who teaches English as a Second Language to adults in Tallahassee, Florida. Her poems have been published in several journals and most recently in The Sun.

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is the cofounder of On Being and currently serves as publisher & editor-in-chief. He received a Peabody Award in 2007 for his work on “The Ecstatic Faith of Rumi” and garnered two Webby Awards (in 2005, and again in 2008). The Online News Association nominated his journalistic work multiple times in the general excellence and outstanding specialty journalism categories. Trent’s reported and produced stories from Turkey to rural Alabama, from Israel and the West Bank to Cambridge, England.

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