The Overshoot

A poem from Zonal

Standpoint Magazine

I’m not heading west! you’d yelled at the hitchhiker from the
     open sedan — though you certainly are —
before crashing the gate and overshooting the junction, and
     now look at you. Stalling and stalling on the tracks
while the train does what trains do, ‘bears down’, while
     howling for you to move
though for some reason never actually braking. Nor it seems
     had you; then you remember
almost all reported brake failure turns out to be some damn
fool inadvertently pumping the accelerator.
You look down at your own feet. Great. Then you instantly
     calculate: OK. The seatbelt could be a faff
and the door might jam, but all told, no — I’ve a good five or six
     seconds to get myself out the door
and I only need three or four max, and the clock runs like
     treacle at times like this, so my chances are decent;
but . . . Ah to hell. It’s comfortable here, and it feels like
     someone’s taking an actual interest for once
and besides, I am already finished. While I might have two or
     three books left in me the chances are it’s the same one again,
that one about death, doubles and the void, and I can’t take
     another school visit where the kids
are asking me about existential nihilism for their exams, and
     lord knows this will be over quick
unlike the death I know is likely bound for me, the one creaking
     along the track like a hand-lever dandy horse,
the one my father pleaded he be spared, until he couldn’t
     remember how to plead.
No, I think I’ll sit tight. All in all, I’d rather succumb to this
     great sudden bomb to the wing.
But it doesn’t come up. The car restarts at the next try; you
sort your feet out and you drive off
as if nothing had happened, as indeed it had, elated and
disappointed beyond words
with barely a glance at the too-well-dressed figure under the
     trees, thumbing a ride as you gun it into the night.


Don Paterson’s Zonal is published by Faber.

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