What’s Good for General Motors

some of them are cars
people climb (casually) into & out of
the bodies (usually) idling drip blue blood & breathe gas

some of them sag & bulge
with the fatness of age their parts jut
through skins acned with salt

or look sleepily out
through dirty head lights
eyes tired as guppies in mud

some are so bored with their latest
incarnations they hardly bother to sit
in the seats & feel them

covered & perfumed as 50’s virgins
or turn the radio
on tune in to some western

station woofing & tweeting with love
some dont even bother to toot
the horn or race

the motor not even to flash
the lights like flesh in cheap
strip joints before

they just droop
away drop off like sleepy men of war
or McGavin’s dough all over the parking lots

lots leave litters of dead
bodies like tombstones
to mark their passing

Questions and Answers

What inspired “What’s Good for General Motors”?

I was working on a series of poems that would deal with the mind / body split and seeking various ways of speaking to that interplay. Much of the pattern for me was a principle of occupancy, the soul inhabiting, or not inhabiting, the body as receptacle. So I hit upon the notion of a driver in a car, a relatively modern naming. Overwhelmingly my sympathies lay with the bodies and so I saw the souls, often, as snooty or condescending, neglectful of the bodies or abusive toward them. The downside of other-worldliness I guess. The parenthetical voicing helped, I thought, to draw out the speaker’s attitude toward the souls as one of snide disapproval. I sought to develop the tone through the irreverent and extended symbol of the car as beater and the recurring references to pop culture: it’s hard to think of souls in exalted ways when they are presented in such terms. I named the souls as beset with lassitude: bored, drooping, doughy, sleepy, and beset by what for them seemed a smudgy and fouled world that could never be good enough for them. So, I worked satirically to undermine notions of souls as the epitome of human existence, all that is best or most enduring.

What poetic techniques did you use in “What’s Good for General Motors”?

Reducton: portraying souls and their presence in “low” terms—connected with strip joints for instance, with tweeting and woofing, their being housed in worn and exhausted car bodies.

Rhyme that implicates the souls in their ensnarements of the flesh: they “droop” and “drop,” they refuse to “flash” with “flesh.” The ending gave me a chance to enlarge the claim and to adjust the tone a bit, from one of low sarcasm to one that is more sombre: the bodies discarded as tombstones.

This poem “What’s Good for General Motors” originally appeared in Popular Culture. Spec. issue of Canadian Literature 108 (Spring 1986): 105.

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