Dead Man’s Curve

            for Chris LaTray

Back in the fifties we were afraid

of dying on Dead Man’s Curve

just east of town on Highway 10.

It was right above my house, so

I imagined some dark and rainy night

a speeding car would loose control

because of booze or snow or failed

brakes, poor judgment or plain stupidity,

and go flying through the guard rail,

land on my roof and crush me in my bed.


Of course it was all in my head,

coloring my dreams like the derailments

I feared (which came to be a daily reality

in twenty years). Back then, before

interstate highways, controlled access,

seat belts or air bags—any thoughts of safety

or restraint—we grew up standing, elbowed

over the front seat, staring at the road

ahead on no-shoulder two-lanes

driving too fast and too slow, often a six

pack conveniently nestled within reach

between the driver and the suicide seat,

all passengers wreathed in a cloud of

“mild” “satisfying” “Kool” blue smoke.

We were riding high on confidence,

building an empire, post World War II.

The sky couldn’t limit us (at least not

for a decade) till death caught us alone.


Usually that happened at night,

headlights sailing off Dead Man’s Curve,

that ninety-degree turn around a wall

of vertical stone, barely enough room

for two cars to pass mid-curve without

scraping the cut-face or shaving paint

off door panels or the wooden guard rail,

not to mention fallen rock continuously

littering the pavement: fist-size to

footballs to oil pan killers—anvils

of mid-turn surprise. A lot of folks died

in these legends fabricated in my mind,

their spirits trapped with rattlesnakes

in hay-bale-sized boulder scree

below the curve and above the railroad

just a stone’s throw from my house.


Ghosts of the dead were everywhere.

Little white crosses marked the spots

where someone not so long ago

was casually hurtling down the road

at one hundred feet per second

and came to an unexpected halt,

didn’t survive to tell the tale, left it

to us to reconstruct in recurring

nightmares: driving at night, two cones

of light catching the flash of white

guard rail before crashing through

and launching off Dead Man’s Curve


to float/drop two hundred feet

into a fiery explosion on

some unsuspecting house below

like a Hitchcock movie or

James Bond flick, an amazing Hollywood

special effect, where all the clueless,

fragile souls dreaming like me

spiraled up in a plume of black smoke,

wouldn’t be around to see the graphic photos

or read about the grisly scene,

unless this dream was like that old

Twilight Zone episode where

they’d find their names in the paper

the next day sipping coffee

while scanning the obituaries.


Mark Gibbons

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