Does your car have bumper stickers? What should I think about them? About you?
It’s interesting to read bumper stickers on cars — whether I want to or not, when I’m in traffic, I find it difficult to ignore them. Especially if the cars are near me. Some of those bumper stickers are familiar; others are not. Some border on the obscene. Many are political, often for beliefs or attitudes I don’t share.
I get annoyed at the ones that have some little guy peeing. In fact, I’d just like to peel those off. But most of the time, I like to connect the bumper stickers to the people driving the car (or truck) and imagine what they’re like, or why they’d put that on their vehicle.
I’m one of those people who collects bumper stickers. Some of them are even on my car. And I remember bumper stickers I no longer have because they’re on cars long gone.
One of the first I ever put on was on the 1962 Chevy BelAir station wagon I drove in college: I went to McNeese State University and our arch rival in football was the University of Southwestern Louisiana, aka USL (it’s now the University of Louisiana at Lafayette). For some reason, “Go to Hell USL” didn’t stay on my bumper long. Clearly some USL fan ripped it off, at least in part. The second was on a Chevy Monza that I bought in 1979 when I was in grad school at Texas A&M University; “I Brake For Armadillos” just made perfect sense to me. Over the years, various other bumper stickers ended up in my office — “Mamas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Davidians,” “Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History,” “Native-Born Texan.”
Something about retirement, though, triggered some urge to plaster more on my car. Short of finding a used VW van and painting it psychedelic colors, I simply began to select new bumper stickers.
If you pass my 2012 Prius on the road, you’ll notice the “I Love My Shih Tzu” magnet on the side. If you’re behind me in traffic, you’ll have more to focus on. First are the two oval stickers for cars: GB (Great Britain) and GR (Greece), two of my favorite countries. Maybe I should simply start collecting them as I travel and use the car as a vehicle (lol) for a visual travelogue.
Last week, I put on two rectangular stickers on the back bumper, one on the right-hand side, one on the left. On the right is a colorful “Coexist,” complete with a peace symbol as well as symbols from various religions. Obviously, this is my comment on religious intolerance — of any and all flavors. On the left-hand side of the bumper is a quote from an Emily Dickinson poem: “Dwell in Possibility.”
That’s the one that I linger on, frankly, when I walk around my car in the driveway (or anywhere). Dickinson is one of my favorite poets. Enigmatic, Dickinson’s poems “Tell the truth but tell it slant,” and I love reading her poems. They make me stop and puzzle, tease out possible meanings. And “Dwell in Possibility” resonates for me.
Here’s the entire poem —
“I dwell in Possibility –
A fairer House than Prose –
More numerous of Windows –
Superior – for Doors –
Of Chambers as the Cedars –
Impregnable of eye –
And for an everlasting Roof
The Gambrels of the Sky –
Of Visitors – the fairest –
For Occupation – This –
The spreading wide my narrow Hands
To gather Paradise –”
Characteristic of her work is that use of the dash as punctuation of choice, rather than a period. Think about it, though. A period announces the end. A dash simply continues. And where do those dashes appear? In a line — connecting a thought — or ending a poem — and the placement of the dash makes a comment. In the middle of a line or connecting two ideas, the dash links, mirroring a thought process. At the end of a line or the end of a poem, the dash suggests continuation, not ending. And in some contexts, that choice means something significant. In this poem, for example, the last line is “To gather Paradise –” as though the gathering of Paradise (whatever that might be, whatever follows, continues. The ending opens up rather than concluding.
And what about “I dwell in Possibility”? I tend to read this as a poem about either poetry itself (“a fairer House than Prose”) or about religious beliefs, specifically about an afterlife.
However you read it, this poem accepts and perhaps even celebrates the lack of a given — for that is what possibility denotes. And announcing right off the bat that she dwells “in Possibility” suggests something positive, something wide and embracing and limitless, not something fearful or limited.
Consider situation one, that possibility is about poetry itself. With this reading, poetry offers a wider “house” than prose (and I might enjoy discussing that with her) with more windows and superior doors (for access both into and out of, I assume). “Chambers as of the Cedars” (strong, perhaps, and also suggesting some spiritual meaning, perhaps of an afterlife) — the chambers of poetry, then, would offer some continuation, some kind of immortality. “Impregnable of eye” — poetry isn’t something that is always something the eye/reader/poet can penetrate; sometimes the “meaning” is something even the poet may not fully intend or grasp. Poetry would have an “Everlasting Roof / The Gambrels of the Sky–“; again, a suggestion that poetry lasts; also, that the “house” of poetry is part of the world itself, so that the roof simply is part of the sky/the heavens/the world. Readers (“visitors”?) are the fairest for occupying this house, and for them the poem, from the poet’s “narrow Hands” spreads wide, opening up “To gather Paradise –“.
Or consider this as one of the many poems reflecting Dickinson’s religious beliefs. Some poems suggest that Dickinson wasn’t certain of what came after death, though she seems pretty certain that something does. She had moments of doubt. Despite this doubt, she would write “This world is not Conclusion.” And the poem here, “I dwell in Possibility” obviously fits in. What follows might not be certain — but something does — and she dwells in possibility, not worried about the uncertainty of what exactly the nature of that might be. As in “Because I could not stop for Death,” where she writes of the grave as a house, and in terms that are not frightening but comforting, here too the house itself is described in terms that are positive and even comforting. If the grave is a house, it is one whose roof is open to the heavens (and Paradise), and the occupants have access.
That bumper sticker says much for me, in three small words. A life philosophy, it reflects my own choice to consider that while I might not know or be certain what is coming (in life or death), something is there. Or some things. Possibility. Possibilities. I choose to dwell in possibility.
Some bumper stickers, though, are just my own smart-ass comments. Such would be reflected by a bumper sticker with a Davy Crockett quote: “You may all go to hell. I will go to Texas.”
That’s going on the truck.