Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

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.

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...

(The entire section is 500 words.)