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Publication Date: December 15, 2020 – Order Today!
In Roadworthy, poet Dave Mehler offers readers the bizarre and unique opportunity to view the world through the lens of a “hauling witness”—a long-haul truck driver in the US and a short line (or regional) truck driver in Colorado/Wyoming and the Pacific Northwest. The poems relate experiences in narrative and lyric based from life and work on the open road, ranging from ecstatic treatments in dense lyrical lines to prose poems, and even a couple that might be considered flash fiction. Some poems have oneiric, surreal qualities; some recount dreams; others are cast in the form of dialogues within narratives including a series of conversations “transcribed” from CB talk between drivers. Beneath the lyrical surface of the truck-driving subject matter, metaphysical and ethical questions are posed: does mundane work matter and can it be meaningful; is beauty or practicality inherently more valuable; does personal evil exist, and if so, how should we respond? The reader is invited along to draw their own conclusions.
December 15, 2020
Perfect Paperback, e-Book
7.0 x 10.0 inches
In the Media
Listen to the Take this poem podcast by Mary Giudice, Episode 45: God, Truck, Nature: Interview With Dave Mehler, recorded October 5, 2021. In this fascinating interview with Mary, Dave answers questions about reading and writing, tells his story of being a truck driver poet, and reads some his poems from Roadworthy.
Kim Stafford — author of “Wild Honey,” “Tough Salt” –
These poems drive your mind through blue-collar ventures unaccustomed to literary affection—the world of long-haul trucks bringing shrink-wrapped loads of mystery along difficult roads to deliver the true texture of working experience. Here are revelations from the road, from long night runs, from alley dramas behind the Dollar Store. The poet reports on smoke breaks, road kills, Van Gogh as a working temp, the quick architecture of stacked pallets, bad jokes, poverty, commerce, trusty friends, jailings, firings, early snow and endless maintenance—all in a dense poetic line, “a driven necessity badgering the mind.” You will emerge from this book deeper in experience, and eager to speak the poetry of working life: “the trannies then were geared so low you could pull the pass in first and never spin a wheel.”
Geronimo Tagatac — author of _The Weight of the Sun, and Other Stories_ –
David Mehler has produced a collection of poems illuminating a world that most people see only in passing. His rich, multi-layered pieces reveal the world of those whose lives are lived on our road, highways, and truck stops. Mehler’s poems deserve to be read and reread.
David Memmott — author of _The Larger Earth_ and _Lost Transmissions_ –
In Roadworthy, David Mehler takes the reader like precious cargo cross country from loading dock to loading dock. He reminds me that truck drivers are my brothers—the human element in the supply train keeps the nation running for the long haul.
Keith Hansen — H&H Drywall –
For any of us who have spent long stretches of time working at a tedious or repetitive job, it can be tempting to adopt the opening line from Berryman’s “Dreamsong 14” as an attitude, a way of being in one’s world: “Life, friends, is boring.” We plod along, head down, eyes blinkered, mind numbed. Mehler doesn’t settle for this, heeding instead the advice of the wizened, crafty, old, truck driving sage in Ode to G.D. Winter: “’Remember, son—be attentive.’” And, attentive he is, taking the reader, Sam Spade-like, through a twilit world that many of us, whether we shop at the Dollar Tree or Whole Foods, know little about and think of rarely. Whether it’s a haunted semi trailer, a Van Gogh doppelganger, the vagaries of road conditions and other drivers, or the constant specter of mechanical failure, there’s always an ambient sense of threat or dismay present, and no detail escapes the poet’s eye.
Gina Ochsner — author of _The Hidden Letters of Velta B._ and _The Russian Dreambook of Color and Flight_ –
Roadworthy represents an utterly unique lyric register built on an unerring sense of rhythm, speed and sound. In these psalms of the road, Mehler hits raw and wild chords, unlocking a hurting music we didn’t know we needed so badly to hear.
Charles Hood — winner of the Felix Pollak Poetry, the Kenneth Patchen Prize, and the Hollis Summers Poetry Prize –
In this book the sublime stays up all night drinking truck stop coffee, hoping to make it to the state line before sunrise. On each page, language and experience dance their inextricable dance, much to our pleasure and wisdom. Dollar Tree forever.
Paul J. Willis — author of _Deer at Twilight: Poems from the North Cascades_ –
In Roadworthy, David Mehler lets his many years as a truck driver roll fiercely across the page. In poems that double-clutch between a tender lyricism and a fire-hosed physicality, he brings you into the cab, over the pass, and right up to the loading dock. Mehler knows this work-grimed world and its many strange characters—and lets them sing in their own tongue, rough and sweet.
Zeke Sanchez –
Dave is a good writer, a good poet. By this I mean that he is technically good. His material reads as well as any great Hemingway prose. Hemingway’s best prose reads like very good poetry. Dave’s poetry is drier, more arid, somehow closer to what life is really about. Hemingway is great, but he can be pretentious. He is a grand man, and often speaks as a grand writer. Dave, however, chooses the real life of a long-haul truck driver and chooses to write about the characters who were not at the gates of hell. His characters are neither Captains of Industry nor war heroes. Or as T.S. Eliot would say in “Gerontion”:
“I was neither at the hot gates
Nor fought in the warm rain”
No grand cannonade in the neighboring forest of oak. Instead it is stories of people struggling with a real life of sequential cigarette breaks between stretches with a hand truck, a forklift or lifting with their arms and backs.
Bill Jolliff — Author of TWISTED SHAPES OF LIGHT, and AT REST IN MY FATHER’S HOUSE –
True to the title, Roadworthy offers readers the world through the windshield of an 18-wheeler. But this collection is far more than a compendium of tales from the truckstop. The verbal maelstrom pulling the reader along through the poet’s asphalt odyssey is psychological, mythological, and, at its best, disturbingly spiritual. His images are rich and keen not only because he has a poet’s eye, but because he has a journeyman’s wisdom concerning what to look for. The diction is at once figurative and precise, the syntax dense, the resonances dependably sure. Mehler has learned to pay soulful attention—and he demands that readers do the same.
Tucker Lieberman — Reviewer, NetGalley –
Roadworthy: A Steady, Humming Poetry Collection
“Literature can tell us how machines work”
Read the full review at medium.com
One of my favorite surprises in literature is when authors take the time to tell us “how stuff works”: a lever, a switch, a gear. Or, if not exactly how it works, then how it feels to interface with the technology. Usually this happens in fiction, and it can be done in poetry, too, although I see it more rarely. To communicate a lot about a machine through poems, a poet might have to build a whole book around it.
Roadworthy, Dave Mehler’s new book of poems, is an example of this. In addition to editing Triggerfish Critical Review and serving on the board of the Oregon Poetry Association, he is a truck driver, a job that inspires and informs his creative work. The poems are delivered by the muse, surely, and also by truck.
The poetry in Roadworthy is divided into four sections, the first of which is called “The Dollar Tree Poems.” While I am not sure if I have ever been inside a Dollar Tree, through Mehler’s telling, I can hear how the repetitive delivery of inventory to chain stores yields itself to poetry.
“…stacking pallets incrementally / higher making platforms, each step closer to the load, / over which I hook the rollers and lay them like track…”
(“The Young Pugilist at the Dollar Tree in Milwaukie, OR”)
“Early morning late fall, thirty-three degrees, clear, / and from quiet leaf-strewn streets I feel a safe, / hot apple-cidery nostalgia.” (“Unloading at the Dollar Tree in Ellensburg, WA”)
He describes the people he meets during his truck deliveries and imagines backstories about their lives. Backgrounding this human activity are the machine and animal ecosystems, as humans stand with one foot in the machine world and one in the animal world. Coughing engines and the slap of machinery make up the scenery’s rhythm, and so do wildlife at rest-stops: eagles, beetles, turtles, mice. The attention needed to interpret “shoe brakes, open trannie casing, / parts of engines strewn, a metallic chaos” (“Spring, and a Mysterious Sense of Well-being at the 11th Street Dollar Tree in Eugene, OR”) is a cousin of the attention that sees the birds: “Black-winged shoulders notched / blood red — below red leaks hot gold light…” (“The Sunny Riverbank at the Dollar Tree Distribution Center in Ridgefield, WA”).
When authors incorporate technology — which in this case includes machinery and retail distribution — into their writing, it gives the writing historical value.
Roadworthy provides an eyewitness record of how people interface with trucks. For truck drivers, I imagine that some observations — the starting, the stopping, the sound of the motor — ordinarily form a set of assumptions that might seem obvious to them until someone logs these observations and transforms them into poetry. Once they are inside a poem, the assumptions are made explicit and can take on new meaning for a wider audience. For those of us who aren’t truck drivers, these detailed journeys offer a window into a rhythmic schedule entirely new to us.
These poems have an immersive physicality. They are immediate in the sensory way. You feel what it is like to be awake at 5 a.m. on the highway, stopping for breakfast, hearing the call of a bird. Here, a reader can “revel in cold and wet seeping through insulated coveralls, with just that hint of warmth and scent passing through the glass of each shop window I walk past, glazed and glaring with all the richness, mulled spices, the life of that world inside.” (“The Jolly Season in Steamboat Springs”) If you like to imagine yourself inside a detailed, real-world scene, this may be the poetry book for you.
Brian Coates — Reviewer, NetGalley –
Roadworthy offers an informed and affectionate portrayal of how long-distance truck driving creates a unique way of seeing the world. Those who perform this demanding work form a clan with its own procedures, mores and signs. Politeness is one essential as shown in ‘At the Dollar Tree in North Bend OR’. Mehler addresses a litany of complaints to the driver supervisor of a dairy driver whose honking of the horn at 3.13 am has awoken him. Yet the poem turns and ends with a sad wryness suggestive of a deeper source behind these complaints:
‘I wish I used a pallet truck to unload my truck
and drove a day cab got paid union wages
you wouldn’t happen to be hiring
Another listing shows up in ‘back to back runs in the Rockies’ when different remedies for staving off sleep are suggested. These include coffee, cigarettes, loud music, taped books, lots of curves and traffic, hard rain, slapping your face, periodic screaming, bouncing, riding seat to music and 10 minute nap.
There is a surreal flavour to the strangeness of these juxtapositions but they also make good practical sense. The universe of long-distance is instantly recognisable yet also deeply foreign; a community with its own rituals as in the superstitions that gather around ‘Trailer 2542L’.
‘. . . The queer frequency
Of mundane mechanical failures – lights that lit
Or didn’t; lug nuts flying off wheels bounced into
people’s windshields; tires throwing tread; brakes
that locked . . .’
The drivers talk and dread seeing 2542L on a load. It goes on its final journey from Newark to Missoula.
In Mehler’s clever telling there are two narratives: in one, the true one, this turns out to be an incident free trip. In the second, the jinx that has plagued the trailer continues on. Mehler concludes that the curse that continues,
‘. . . would be the stuff of a 19th century Joseph
This tongue-in-cheek knowingness is one of the cardinal strengths of this volume. It has a sustained tone, a well-informed grip of the practicalities of trucking while still communicating that naive universal romantic longing for a life ‘on the road’.