In Their Own Words

Alicia Mountain on “Drive Thru”

Drive Thru

Franchise French fries
and a Frosty
in the front seat chill of January—
          all I need is the swamp of you.
And to speak
with the backlit voice
through an intercom
in unhurried tones of decision,
          though I know what I want.
Static seasoning
the breath between us
as if we are far apart
          as if I am calling
          from a submarine at peacetime
          and the crew is happy
                    but they miss their mothers—
                    they have waited months
                    for the mail to come.

Because of my mom
we went to Wendy's.
Because Dave Thomas
was adopted as a baby,
before going on to found Wendy's
we went to Wendy's.
Because my mom was an orphan too
we went to Wendy's,
          which is notable
          for using fresh (not frozen)
          ground beef in square patties
          that hang over the edge of
          a round bun.
And I don't eat burgers anymore
but there is a square-peg-round-hole
phenomenon for each of us.

          There is a Dave Thomas for each of us.

My father quit ROTC
and says it's his great regret.
Dave Thomas quit high school
and learned to cook
in the Korean War.
Before I was 18
my father never asked
and I never told
until someone
          in the crepe paper dark
          of a dorm room
sighed and said,
          all your desires are sacred.

What a way to fall in love with wanting.

Tonight I am asking for
          hot and cold
          for grease and sweet
          somewhere between chocolate and putty
          a mouth up against a milk carton
          froth the color of gray matter,
                    a bit purple
                    a brain frozen
                    a brain freeze.


The sentry in his sentry box
is not so far away.
And what he means to say is not
          pull up to the window

but rather,
          come up for air,
                    you submarine,
                    you draft dodger,
                    you twilight party of one.

          All your desires are sacred.
          All you need is to speak them aloud.

From High Ground Coward (University of Iowa Press, 2018). All rights reserved. Reprinted with the permission of the author.

On "Drive Thru"

"Drive Thru" snuck up on me the way lust and hunger often sneak up on me. I am one of those people who can be suddenly struck by craving without realizing that my stomach has been grinding on emptiness for too long. I hadn't mapped out the turns taken by this poem ahead of time—I sat down to write and this is what rose up to meet me. In this poem, the hunger is for belonging, recognition, acceptance. It's a look back on coming out and coming into adulthood. In "Drive Thru" I also spend time with small ways of understanding my parents, how they came to be who they are. Fast food serves as a point of entry into both desire and family narrative.

I am drawn to the intimacy and anonymity of the intercom voice in this poem. Even in a world that includes many kinds of hiding, there are moments of profound recognition exchanged between strangers that have taught me how to love—often how to love myself. Wisdom and compassion don't have to come from a pulpit or a podium or a poet. Luminance can be the Wendy's employee who hears your asking, who hears what you have secretly hungered after for a long time, and gives it to you.

I am trying to talk about the opposite of shame. I am trying to talk about the people who pull us out of our shame. I want to thank them. "Drive Thru" is a small way of showing my gratitude.

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