Are we there yet?— comes the restless cry
of bouncing children in the car’s back seat.
No, darlings, we will get there by and by

comes from a front-seat grownup in reply.
Before too long, the rigmarole repeats:
are we there yet? —now a plaintive cry

much louder and annoyingly pitched high.
Again the answer, in a tone now not so sweet:
sit down, be quiet; we will get there by and by.

There is nothing for it but to lie back, sigh
and take a nap or find some munchables to eat.
Are we there yet?—-a forbidden, useless cry.

Staring out the window, a daydreaming little eye
watches the road, the trees, advance, retreat
in endless tickings toward the by and by—

it would inquire of a power in the passing sky
with no one else to hear, unvoiced, discreet—
are we there yet? Then in a whimper, not a cry,
say to itself: just wait until I get there, by and by.

50 responses »

  1. What memories this stirs, 3 of us in the backseat of a ’54 Ford going from N.Y. to Alberta to visit relatives, 500 miles a day. And just when the tensions rose the highest, my sister decided it was a good time to practice her clarinet. Watching those ‘endless tickings’ of telephone poles did the trick–I’d be asleep in no time flat. Oh, thank you for this waking dream of a poem, cynthia.

    • What a good laugh I had, reading your comment, Lance. I can just see it, but the clarinet! Being a child, your sister probably played that instrument gratingly on the nerves. You were smart to just sleep it off. Thank you so much for the delight of this comment!

  2. Having being brought up some time before Henry Ford had that nascent though awesome vision of fourteen pronged highway interchanges, I only knew the anxiety associated with travel on non-domestic equidae (wild asses, zebras, et cetera). Still, I can imagine the feeling of those wretched children in the car, as driving to the Federal prison, a short trip known to me by heart, invariably gives me indigestion–even though I know precisely when I’ll get there. Funny that.

  3. A wonderful poem as always, Cynthia – and I can identify with the introversion of the child towards the end… Sometimes your poems remind me of the New Zealand poet, Bernadette Hall. I don’t quite know why! I think it’s the “poetic voice” rather than the form…

    • Thank you, Bruce. That’s a very interesting observation Bernadette Hall and I are of the same vintage, and share many aspects of life experience. I see us as quite different, though, in that she is of the academic approaches to poetry writing which were prevalent in our formative years —and seem to still hold, as definition of poetry: hyper imagism that seeks the surreal, and psychosocial confession. i didn’t want to go that way, and gave up on poetry for a long time. My work now stems from a fascination with traditional forms, how they might be tweaked for our time, with sound and fairly ordinary images and language.
      For example, her amazing “Tomahawk of Sonnets” are not really sonnets but definitely tomahawks in a certain kind of voice and imagery. My own crown of sonnets–“The Unclaimed Treasure”— is much more pedestrian, and a tour de force of traditional sonnet form.
      See? You got me going!

  4. Oh, how the villanelle form is perfect for representing a sense of being stuck and going around and around the same terrain. My father used to pack all 6 children in the back seat of the car and go on lengthy road trips. He would instruct us to be quiet and enjoy the scenery. How much fruit for my imagination was the confined space and my failure to engage with scenery, which came decades later. I love your poetry indeed.

    • And I love that you come to read and comment on it. Six? SIX?? My poor Natalie! Since I am the eldest of seven, I totally empathize with the slings and arrows that must have come your way in that position, and the absurdity of “enjoy the scenery.” Fortunately, my family didn’t take lengthy road trips. As an adult, however, I did experience the back seat full of bored, impatient, children, and that, too, was a headache.
      You’re right, about the villanelle. Whenever I’m tempted to try one, I am faced with the fact that not too many phrases/situations can bear that sort of repetition. So I tweaked the refrains a bit, to move the action forward. 🙂

  5. This is not a cry restricted to small children. With a long road trip ahead of us this summer, I know I’ll hear this refrain from the restless teens behind me.

  6. As a child prone to car sickness, long car trips were the bane of my life. (The yearly trip down the winding Great Ocean Road to Lorne for the holidays was the worst.) I could never read or do puzzles as my siblings could. Fortunately I had a resourceful mother so we played plenty of I Spy games and sang long songs such as One Man Went To Mow and Green Grow The Rushes O. I did the same for my boys when they were small but having not inherited my car sickness gene, as soon as they could read they no longer required entertaining, just plenty of books.

    • Oh yes, car sickness! I was afflicted with that too. It wasn’t so bad when I was allowed to ride in the front seat, for some strange reason, and was totally cured once I got my own license to drive. But to this day I get green around the gills when forced to ride in the back seat of a car for any length of time. In my case it was my grandmother who got me involved in interminable verses of old songs she taught me from her French Canadian girlhood, and other goodies like “There’s Sixteen Counties in Our State” which had me knowing all the counties names forever. If you were here, I’d sing it for you…

      • And I would want to hear it. 🙂

        We had a station wagon with a front bench seat so I always got to sit in the front. (Pretty sure my siblings thought I was putting on the car sickness just to sit in the front.) I can read a bit in the car now as long as I’m in the front but not for long. Like you, I can’t ride in the back very successfully. If a group of friends are going somewhere, I always offer to drive.

        • Like so many things in this world, even if you voice the problem, those who do not experience it simply do not understand, and think you are making it up….until you open a window as you are being driven at good speed on some endless road, and upchuck all over the side of their car….. which did happen to me once, as an adult person riding with friends. Mortified! I don’t get seasick, though, and can do boats of all sizes in all weather. Go figure.

          • Oh dear. Mortifying indeed! I am the same – boats are not a problem, neither are trains. Buses on the other hand… Oh, and crossing the English Channel in a hovercraft on a wild weather day when I was 12 was not pretty.

        • Sco-po-lo-mine, ladies. Miraculous stuff. I don’t get motion sick, but use it for surgeries. It is equally miraculous for motion sickness, which is what it is intended for. Just a patch behind the ear does the trick : )

  7. Evocative poem and so true, you record on a seemingly unpleasant experience and give it a memorably twist. I also enjoyed reading the ensuing blog dialogue – you hit a nerve with this one Cynthia. I like the way that you modified the villanelle form to make it more interesting; although in my experience the back seat plaintive cry can be incessantly repetitive. Even now I hate long car trips and only accept them if I have access to a gripping book on tape with reading as good as yours.

    • It’s probably a common experience and very trying for both children and adults. And what a good way to solve it, with audio books! Reading print while riding, as discussed above, is really not possible for those afflicted with car sickness, but if we had had books to listen to, in the old days, I wonder if that would have helped…I bet it would. You remind me that I should explore that avenue one of these days. I hate long car trips, too; I always wish I could just press a button and ‘be there’! Thank you for your lovely comment, my friend.

  8. I don’t recall being the ‘are we there yet’ type as a child. I do remember, with a strange fondness, counting the seconds between mileposts and calculating and recalculating our average speed per hour in my head, or playing the license plate game. Then again, given I still strongly identify with your poem, maybe I was indeed the ‘are we there yet’ type – just not in so many words.

    • I think one of my little brothers was like you, passing the time calculating things like speed, playing license plate games….he knew how to entertain himself and at a tender age could name every make and model of cars he saw along the way…while to me they were just…cars….
      Thank you, Brad.

  9. Lovely poem, Cynthia. Very American (and Canadian prob.) 🙂 the back seat of the car thing. I think many Americans have spent a part of their childhood driving somewhere! 🙂 The first time I did a long distance car trip, it was with our sons and one got car sick lol. We went to Belgium, the Ardennes. Nice to have a car to go places, but I still prefer traintravels.

    • It’s true, Ina; we Americans have a love affair with the auto. I think it’s because we have fewer big cities and a lot of spacious, open land. Where I live there are no trains, no bus, and everything is spread out or too far to walk from my house. Without a car–or dependency on someone else with a car— I would not be able to get groceries, go to a doctor, or even get to see the ocean or the beautiful nearby mountains.

  10. This is one for which I enjoyed your reading as much as the written form. (Does that sound like a left-handed compliment? I didn’t mean it to be. I rarely enjoy hearing others read aloud.) Very accurate rendering : )

      • Cynthia, I should clarify: I have not even LISTENED to your readings on the others, but one–which I did enjoy, because you (as I think I’d mentioned to you) did not use that ridiculous “See? I am reading a PO-EM.” monotonous rising inflection. But I wished to on this one, because I suspected there would be an increased chance I would enjoy your role playing/voice acting–which I did, a great deal.

        • I know, Babe. I understand perfectly. There is a manner that is often adopted for poetry readings that grates on the nerves. There are also people who read their poems which are the sort that are all abstract, surreal fragments and have no clear voice in them….I don’t know why they bother to read aloud. I tried reading a few here on the blog, and the response was very positive, so I kept doing it. I guess hearing the words is better for some people, than simply viewing them. I always read them straight, as I would speak them to myself when I was writing them. After years of teaching children and adults, it’s the way I speak naturally, with no rehearsing or practicing to sound “right.” I always appreciate your honesty, and enjoy your unique viewpoint…please know that.

  11. I was such a terrible daydreamer as a child that I didn’t experience the are-we-there-yet impatience much. And I would fall asleep a lot. 🙂 My husband and I don’t have children, so our road-trips are relatively peaceful, and we enjoy the journeys often as much as the destinations.

  12. Oh I think everyone will relate to this fab poem Cynthia. I can clearly remember asking this question and my dad would always say, “Just round the corner”! And all three of our children have taken their turn asking too! 😊

    • It does seem a pretty common experience. I was looking for this sort of grating, annoying repetition as a villanelle experiment. Love your dad’s answer to the question. I bet you kept your eyes glued on the front window, looking for that up-coming corner! 🙂

  13. That power in the passing sky gives a wise answer to the heart…I remember those moments as a child, inquiring to the “power” above and finding the answer in my own heart : ) Perhaps not always so wise or peaceful…Delightful poem!

    • Anna….your comment brings to mind that Judy Blume title: “Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret”…. I also think one can continue to find the answer in one’s own heart, unless time and life have taken away the capacity to hear it. But I guess you know that. Thanks, as always, for visiting to read and respond.

  14. Time seems to move faster for the youngsters. After all, they focus on anticipation, but as we get older, there’s the shift from anticipation to the approaching deadlines.

  15. I do love your voice, Cynthia! You’ve captured this universal sentiment so acutely.

    I’ve recorded a few of my poems as well, but chose to utilize TuneScoop to upload my audio versions. I really enjoy the immediacy that your platform offers. I think I’m sold on the upgrade and will be flowing suit.

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