This Magazine

Progressive politics, ideas & culture

September-October 2011

Poem: “The Death Car Rides On” by Carolyn Smart

Carolyn Smart

Bonnie and Clyde with their car, 1933

with the gore and the glass and the reek it is towed to town,
the wrecker breaking down before a schoolyard
and the children all come running forth to see the dead
within: Bonnie’s lip near severed from her mouth,
Clyde with his head blown open,
the hum of heat and the insects never yielding

the car comes to rest in the town of Arcadia, home to 1,000 souls
and a herd of 16,000 try to get an up-close view:
one man tries to harvest Clyde’s fine ear, another wants his trigger finger,
bits of Bonnie’s hair and dress are snipped away,
Clyde’s body is a smear of red, wet rags,
Bonnie has hearts tattooed upon her thigh,
beer sells for two bits and you can’t get a thin ham sandwich at any price

there are 17 entry wounds in Clyde, 26 in Bonnie,
they are photographed frail and naked on the gurneys,
they are sent to separate funeral homes
where someone offers Henry 10 grand for his son’s body
and Emma Parker can no longer hide her hatred for the boy

meanwhile the Ford V8 flathead sits in the Arcadia impound lot
pocked by 167 bullets, filthy, with an engine smooth as silk,
the posse think that it belongs to them, sweet ambush booty
along with all the guns and cash and trinkets from the ride

Ruth Warren disagrees: that damn car was stolen from her place
April 29 in Topeka Kansas and she comes to drive it home,
then rents it out to Charles W. Stanley who loads the car
upon a flatbed truck and tours it round the land for free,
though a dime per person would help towards expenses

Cumie Barrow and Emma Parker join the car on tour
in March of ’35, a paycheck is a paycheck after all,
Henry had a job and Marie would handle ticket sales
for the show entitled Crime Does Not Pay,
not long before they head back home to Dallas

Stanley ran the Death Car Tour well into the 40s
people fell upon their knees and wept to see it
arguments broke out and lawyers made their fees
the car moved hand to hand from state to state
and rests today upon the floor in
Whiskey Pete’s Casino, Primm, Nevada

the car they lived and died in, a little like a shrine:
damn you Henry Ford and your knack for slick design.

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