Brake Lights by Kirsten Uhde

Unfixed by Clare Elsaesser
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Brake Lights

I am driving down Maine Route 133.
The car ahead of me slows
at the blinking yellow light.
I look to my left and I see a blue
Toyota RAV4 with a US Mail sign
on its roof, and I know this car.
It’s my mother’s car, the first car
I ever drove, the first car
I ever crashed, and when I see it
my foot hits the brake like a body
hits the ground when thrown from
six stories up, like
twisted metal.

March 2012.
My mother hands me the car keys,
says with a chuckle, “Don’t get into an
accident!” and I leave, taking a deep breath
the moment I’m free. She thinks
I’m going to see friends.
She doesn’t know that I’m paying someone
by the hour to try and get her out of my head,
she doesn’t know that I never saw
that Subaru’s brake lights.
When I call her to tell her what happened,
she just sighs. She doesn’t know
that by the time she picks up the phone
I have already braced for impact.
She doesn’t know that my cell phone
felt an awful lot like that steering wheel
underneath my fingers.

September 2009.
After I come out to my mother,
I walk to my friend’s house and cry
in her arms, tell her, “I was sick
of waiting at this stop sign,
but acceleration feels like suicide.”
That night, my mother sends me
a Facebook message, calmly assuring me
that there is evil in this world, she tells me
that God loves me, but never says that she does
and I never knew a car crash could be
Like rolling up the windows.
My mother always taught me that silence
was my best defense, but this seatbelt
is prone to malfunction, and I never see
her brake lights until it’s too late to stop.

October 2013.
When I try to defend myself, my mother tells me
that I am full of shit, tells me that the only ones
hurting when someone commits suicide-
like her brother did, like I almost did-
are the ones left behind. This time,
I see the collision coming but I do not stop.
This time, I combust, run her off the road
and drive on by, this time, my bumper
is stronger than my terror.

November 15, 2013.
One month later, on the morning
of my twenty-first birthday, I get home from work
to find a bouquet of flowers parked on my doorstep,
all pink and white, delicate, like the woman
my mother refuses to admit I will never become.
Nestled among the carnations and baby’s breath
there is a note that reads,
“Happy Birthday,
Love, Mom.”
I didn’t really expect an apology.
Screeching tires, maybe, or
some new kind of noise. What I didn’t expect
was for my mother to try and bandage
a lifetime of abuse with one

I throw away the note
and watch the flowers wilt.

I am driving down Maine Route 133.
I see a blue Toyota RAV4
with a US Mail sign on the roof
and I do not stop.
I flinch, keep my eyes
on the road ahead,
and I keep moving.


Kirsten Uhde

Kirsten Uhde is a queer bigender poet from Maine. She was a representative of the 2014 Port Veritas team at the National Poetry Slam, and has been writing poetry enthusiastically since 2011. She believes in unisex bathrooms, the creation of safe spaces, and the healing power of connections established with the help of poetry. You can learn more about her personal, political, and poetic views by following her at