“Auto Wreck” is an impressionistic poem of three stanzas and thirty-nine lines that takes a hard look at the spectacle of injury and accident in a crassly technological world. The title, in trademark Karl Shapiro style, focuses attention on the unadorned, literalist description of a common event or experience.
In the first stanza, which comprises the first fourteen lines, the reader is situated, as it were, in front of an ambulance that is speeding toward the scene of an automobile accident; the reader is kept informed by an omniscient voice, which scrupulously provides both sensual and metaphorical detail that brings the reader uncomfortably close to both the horrifying event and his or her own matter-of-fact response to its horror.
The ambulance’s red light pulses “like an artery,” confronting the reader early with an image of blood, anticipating the arrival at the accident scene and preparing the reader for the sight of “stretcherslaid out, the mangled lifted/ And stowed into the little hospital.” As the ambulance and its “terrible cargo” move away, the reader is left to contemplate the waiting physicians who will attempt to restore seeping life to the victims.
In the second stanza, the point of view shifts and the narrative voice becomes an introspective “we,” implicating the reader as one of the “deranged, walking among the cops/ Who sweep glass and are large and uncomposed.” These police officers,...
(The entire section is 548 words.)
Lines 15 - 21
There is an acute shift in perspective in the second stanza. The speaker has become part of the crowd, is a spokesperson for the crowd, and the picture widens a little as the police are introduced. Gone is the rather detached, objective description of the scene.
As the cops go about their business of taking notes and cleaning up, the crowd are in shock, disbelieving what they have just witnessed. The cars are seen as locusts, insects that are traditionally a nuisance, often in plagues, and they are clinging to iron poles they have crashed into.
Are the cars are so wrecked, with metal strips sticking out, panels busted and headlights popping out, that the speaker is reminded of large insects, a peculiar association but quite a striking image to consider.
The language used to pinpoint the action of the cops is again unusually blunt. One rinses ponds of blood (not pools) down the gutter. The word douche refers to rinsing out of body cavities. All in all, quite a visceral scene.
Lines 22 - 32
There is still confusion, perhaps denial; there are questions to be asked. The speaker becomes victim, the crowd become the souls of those departed, become the people killed in the accident. Are these the wounds of the victims or the onlookers suffering mentally and emotionally?
Tourniquets and splints bind, support and help heal. Perhaps the crowd watched as these were being applied to those fatally wounded - not an ideal pastime, to be a voyeur at the side of the highway.
- Gauche is to be socially awkward, and who wouldn't feel a bit strange being part of a gawking crowd? But they have also seen something unique and feel somehow bonded by the experience.
They are asking serious questions despite wanting to be light-hearted, to make light of such things happening in the locality. They are asking questions only God might answer, or the Fates. Who shall die? And why?