When the wheel unbolted from the steering columnand our car was suddenly veering across the autobahn,
directionless as the clouds we had counted allthrough Bavaria—cotton-balls
and billowinghorses and puffs like pillows—
my mother hit the break, opened her door, and laid her footon the asphalt,
skipping toe then heel then toe. In the backseat, my best friendand I held hands.
We watched her guide the vehicle with her body, one white sneaker slidingall of us back between solid lines. How long did we glide
like that? And when we finally stopped, how was it in a placefamous for opera, so that it came as no surprise
to the mechanic on dutythat we had driven there, maneuvered as if by the gods of loose machinery?
Bayreuth was empty in the off-season.The whole town like intermission,
local hoodsslumped against façades [End Page 54]
made ornate with curlicues, smoking cigarettesor smoothing the purple spikes of their hair into uneasy coronets.
None of us could find Wagner anywhere.Cafés played Michael Jackson and the central square
seemed smaller than in the postcards on display. Whatever sounds we heardwere plain, Germanic sounds: a cup of coffee stirred,
the edge of a fork cut through apple pastry.And the next day, when my best friend quite accidentally
locked herself in the bath, her voice was the closest thing we could findto theater, confined
in a tile box for two hours, waiting for the man to arriveand remove
the door from its mute hinges. After,we would laugh—
how we almost died and how Bayreuthsaved us with its empty parks, its great
absence of Brünnhildes; how opera isn’t the stage but whathappens when the road is flat and quiet
and all at once you feel the car go reckless, careeningtoward the horizon’s painted screen. [End Page 55]
JEHANNE DUBROW is the author of five poetry collections, including most recently The Arranged Marriage (University of New Mexico Press, 2015), Red Army Red (Northwestern University Press, 2012), and Stateside (Northwestern University Press, 2010). Her work has appeared in Virginia Quarterly Review, The New England Review, The Hudson Review, and The New York Times Magazine. She is the director of the Rose O’Neill Literary House and an associate professor of creative writing at Washington College.