Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 500

That the speaker’s recollection of his junkyard meetings with Doris is positive emerges clearly from his memories and exuberant tone, but one must ask why Dickey chooses a junkyard for this encounter. What significance does he place on wrecked automobiles as a ground for the blossoming of love and sexuality? The landscape of wrecks becomes a sort of code to be deciphered, just as the speaker hears the banging of Doris’s wrench as “tapping like code.” The speaker himself reads the lives of past generations into their wrecked vehicles. This exercise of imagination works two ways: It suggests how the mind erects its palaces or playgrounds anywhere it must, turning a junkyard into a paradise; but it also suggests how youthful passion, like all things, becomes subject to age and deterioration. The junkyard is a litter of broken parts: A glass panel is “broken out”; upholstery is “spilling,” “ripped,” and “burst[ing]”; wheels are missing; and every surface shows rust. The “parking lot of the dead” serves as a memento mori, a reminder that death and decay are ubiquitous.

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Yet Doris collects working parts from this graveyard, “Carrying off headlights,/ Sparkplugs, bumpers.” More important, out of the wreckage young love finds expression. If the snake-filled setting represents a version of the corrupted Garden of Eden after the Fall, Dickey’s poem offers an alternative vision of the genesis of sexuality. In Dickey’s version, the sexual moment engenders life out of death rather than mortality out of ever-youthful paradise. In the decayed junkyard, death lingers: “Through dust where the blacksnake dies/ Of boredom, and the beetle knows/ The compost has no more life.” These lines are filled with images of a wasted world. The explicit association of the snake with death and the reference to dust (symbolic of mortality) and the beetle (also traditionally associated with death) reveal that the compost, which should generate new life out of waste, “has no more life.” It is this morbid landscape that the lovers’ sexual passion spurs back into vitality, as the snake “curved back/ Into life” and “The beetles reclaimed their field.”

The imagery of the final stanza conjures up the youthful pride of a boy experimenting with sex and, typically, projecting his enthusiasm onto his motorcycle, the powerful machine between his legs. Alliteration connects the key words of the closing lines: “Wringing the handlebar for speed,/ Wild to be wreckage forever.” However, this closing paean to wildness has grim overtones. Does the boy’s desire to be wreckage become a death wish on the highway? Perhaps that connection back to all the wrecks of the junkyard he is leaving behind is meant to remind the reader that the speaker’s experience is an initiation into the fallen adult world, where the ultimate result of passion is wreckage. The speaker conveys the message, but his desire does not allow him to hear it. The reader captures the poem’s bittersweet “forever,” poised against the fleeting brevity of the remembered encounter.

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