“Come with me, child, past all this camouflage.”
“Is there a secret garden there, Grandpa?”
“Not quite. It’s just a small, padlocked garage,
To keep out the enforcers of the law.”

I keyed the lock, and lifted up the door
For just the time it took us to walk in.
The bulb inside was 60 Watts, not more.
I closed the door, and she began to grin.

“What’s that, Grandpa? It’s like Ezekiel’s wheels!
Or like some dragon, full of majesty!”
“That, my girl, is called an automobile,
The way that God intended it to be.”

“In old times, men were brave and women fierce.
We steered our own machines, commanded flame
With pulsing, violent roar I know would pierce
The souls of timid moderns, grown too tame.”

“’Autonomous’, back then, pertained to men
And women, whom these brute machines obeyed.
But now, we’ve yielded all control to them,
To these completely soulless cars we’ve made.”

“May I please touch it Gramps?” she asked me, keen.
“Oh, I insist!” I said. “Learn every curve.”
She moved with reverence to the machine,
And measured it with heart and hand and verve.

“Imagine now the thundering exhaust,
And rubber smoke from crisply chirping tires.
Imagine mankind not enslaved to Cost,
But free to race, the way the heart desires.”

“These were not fashioned by some gamer geek,
But crafted out of elbow grease and passion.
Their power would make faint the modern meek,
And cause their sissy faces to turn ashen.”

“These fire-belching dragons we adored
Commanded our respect but not our fear.
So, here’s to Harley Earl and Henry Ford,
And everyone to ever grind a gear.”

“Their spirit, child, I see it in your eyes,
Or else I’d not have brought you here to see
What others of your age would just despise.
But you will keep this car alive for me.”

“Alive for some bright day when, once again,
The riotous act of driving is reclaimed.
Then, you will start this hot rod, and weak men
Shall gaze upon its glory and be shamed.”



Paul Erlandson resides in Royal Oak Michigan, and has recently retired from an automotive engineering career with Ford Motor Company.  He has had poetry published in “Dome” (a publication of St. Paul’s Cathedral, London) and “The Slumbering Host”, a volume of poetry collected by Clinton Collister and Daniel Rattelle.

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28 Responses

  1. Joe Tessitore

    It don’t get more brilliant than this – a thrill to read that gives you the chills.
    This is simply spectacular!

    Bravo, Paul!

  2. Julian D. Woodruff

    Mr. Erlandson
    What could you have been doing all those years with Ford? When you were supposed to be designing cars, or testing them in drag races? You must instead have been honing your poetic skills! This is terrific, and especially because it would make so many virtue-signalers fume like an over-priced Continental. I especially admire the 4train beginning “These were not fashioned …” Let’s have more!

    • Paul Erlandson

      Thanks, Julian!

      I only wish my career at Ford had had anything to do with testing cars in drag races. It did not involve that kind of excitement, alas.

      I did read this poem at an open mic night at a local hipster tea house, and it got a strong reaction from one audience member. She was another poet/artist, and her name was “Sparrow” … possibly old enough to have been named that by hippie parents during the Summer of Love. Anyhow, she stared daggers at me during the entire reading of this poem.

  3. Mike Bryant

    Beautiful poem about beautiful art. As I read this powerful paean to muscular ICE motorcars, I feel I’m at the wheel of a ‘50 Merc… chopped, lowered and shaved, ready to cruise Route 66. The new electrics may be quicker, but they’ll never match the roar and ecstasy of fifties freedom.
    I almost forgot the maneater grill… it’s gotta have that.

    • Paul Erlandson

      Can’t go wrong with a chopped Merc. I used to actually own one of those “maneater” grilles (from an old Desoto), but sadly, had to sell it during a period of financial weakness. I didn’t even have a car to put it on, but I loved it.

      Thanks for your kind comments!

  4. Brian Yapko

    A very enjoyable poem, Paul, which manages to convey both charm and hope in a dystopian setting. It’s also a nice bit of nostalgia for me. I grew up in Detroit (in Southfield, not far from you) and enjoyed many a visit to the Henry Ford Museum/Greenfield Village. You’ve given me much to smile about.

  5. Margaret Coats

    Great story, Paul, and such splendid lines to tell it–like “rubber smoke from crisply chirping tires.” Whatever our mode of driving, the experience is one of freedom to control power.
    And even now, we have billboards offering help to our new arrivals because “no puede vivir en LA sin auto.”

    • Paul W Erlandson

      Thanks, Margaret … just so! The freedom to control power. That has quickly become a subversive idea in our culture. Thank you for your comments.

  6. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    I love this skillfully written poem for many reasons. I love the relationship the little girl has with her grandpa. Grandparents are such an important part of a child’s development with their wisdom, enthusiasm, passions, and visions of the future. I love the description of the car. My grandfather was once a chauffeur who drove politicians to royal garden parties, actors to film studios, and authors to book launches. He often borrowed the Rolls to take his family on holiday, and oh the wonder of such a magnificent vehicle. To pass his advanced driving test, a glass of water was placed in the back of the Rolls… not a drop was to be spilled on the designated journey. I also love your poem for the unobtrusive rhyming and the magic images. All the words flow along smoothly and beautifully conjuring vivid scenes to cheer this reader with a poetic tale that has made me smile. Thank you, Paul.

    • Paul W Erlandson

      That’s a great story about your grandfather, Susan! I don’t think that there is much left that can stand up to the majesty of a Rolls from that era. It wasn’t just the styling, either (in those days, the bodies were often not made by Rolls Royce, but put on the chassis by custom coachbuilders). It was also the scale of the things … wheelbases of 130″ or more were common. People have tried to build “small, stately” cars, but they always seem to fall short.

      Thanks for your comments! I do like the relationship of the girl with her grandpa. The girls parents probably don’t even know about the hot rod, having capitulated to the zeitgeist of timidity.

  7. Allegra Silberstein

    Love this wonderful poem. I can tell you know and understand cars. Thank you, Paul.

  8. Paul Freeman

    If you watch the Woody Allen film ‘Sleeper’, which believe it or not is based on the HG Wells novel ‘The Sleeper Awakes’ (I contacted the HG Wells Society recently and they had to research the connection), we have a future world with autonomous electric cars, a great leader, etc, but a hilarious part where Miles (Woody Allen) finds a 200-year-old VW Beetle in a cave. It starts first time, to which he says ‘They don’t make them like this anymore.’

    Your poem brought this all back to me, Paul, as well as the opening to the first Chris Pine Star Trek film with James T Kirk pinching his uncle’s antique (1950s/60s) car.

    I did enjoy the piece, although in my opinion man is a practical creature and heading away from fossil fuels is not because men and women are no longer brave or, or fierce, or have become robots, but for practical reasons.

    Thank you for the read, and although I risk being pilloried, I enjoyed your poem on many levels.

      • Paul W Erlandson

        Mike – My son preaches on that point with evangelistic fervor and zeal. In terms of life-cycle impact to the planet, EVs are far worse.

        I think that people (because of our poor Science curricula in the schools?) fancy that electricity is a type of naturally occurring fuel. It is not, of course; it is merely a way of storing energy that must be generated in other ways. There will never be enough geothermal or wind power to meet our vehicular needs. I personally am fine with burning coal to generate electricity, but many EV advocates are not. They nearly all resist nuclear plants, which are of course the only viable solution to generating that much electricity.

        OK, stepping off the soap box now.

      • Mike Bryant

        Paul Erlandson, I’m no engineer and I don’t play one on TV either, but I subscribe to a site called wattsupwiththat.com which lays out the real science and engineering on a huge range of current controversies. EVs are just another of the many pseudosciences designed by those who are feeding at the public trough. That poem is a winner.

      • Mike Bryant

        Paul, Susan is a huge Oscar Wilde fan… she said that he would say, “We are all in the gutter; only the impractical are looking at the stars.”

      • Mike Bryant

        Poor Paul, I feel for you. Anyone who disagrees with your pious world view has placed you in the stocks. Poor, poor Paul….

    • Paul W Erlandson

      Thanks, Paul Freeman!

      I loved the “Sleeper” reference. I’ve not seen that since my high school days, I think, so am long overdue for another viewing.

      I think we disagree on the practicality of EVs vs ICE vehicles, but that’s okay. Time will tell. My wife and I have been reading Oscar Wilde lately, and I wonder what his retort would be to the thought that “man is a practical creature.” The thought makes me sad, and I’ve personally taken a vow of Impracticality. LOL

      Whether the loss of ferocity and bravery is causally related to the evolution of vehicles is arguable, I suppose, but the former has absolutely happened. Some of the things I’ve seen …

      Thank you for your comments!

      • Paul Freeman

        I think over the years people have become over-informed. As a kid, in the summer, I’d be out all day ‘exploring’, riding a bike without a helmet or shin guards or whatever. I even used to … walk to school and back!
        Now we see so many news stories about how a helmet would have saved someone’s life, or that there are strangers on every street corner waiting to kidnap kids, etc, etc.
        That said, kids will probably claim it’s their human right to be driven to school.
        Remember to check out the beginning of first Chris Pine Star Trek film, which instantly places James T as a rebellious petrol head.

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