Skip to Content

‘70 Chevy El Camino

By Vickie Vértiz

The men inside the Pep Boys wear blue work shirts. Fingerprints on the hems. That’s
how I’m going to be: my hands with grease that won’t wash off. Like Apá buying Freon.
Fenders. My sister sniffs the little trees, outlines the posing girls with her eyes. We buy
peanuts and their candy turns our palms to red


I follow Apá and remember 1530, the number on the oil, for when I’m older
Men fix cars and that will be me. Like this, son. Apá showed me later
Took a wrench and made it click. Twisted the bolt through the rim, and like that
we have new tires. He tests the headlights


He wants to see where we’re going. But he’s not done
Apá sucks his teeth. Hijodelachingadas
drops a screwdriver. Amá brings him orange Kool-Aid and he leaves
fingerprints on the cup’s plastic neck
My sister holds the flashlight for him


It’s dark when the moths come
and leave their dust. I hand him tools like Operation
Not that one, Jesús, he says. The one with the magnetic tip
No. Beat it, he tells Amá. She distracts him. Bothers like a fly


And when she walks away, he flings a word at her, a wrench, hard
into his toolbox. It sounds like a tooth when it cracks
I check my teeth
They’re okay, just a little big for my mouth


Tiny pebbles stick to my knees when I get up. And I think
That’s not how I want to be a man. I go inside to see if I can find
That tool Apá needs to fix our car
One that can help him make it run, be more beautiful
Instead of taking it apart




Listen as Vickie Vértiz reads‘70 Chevy El Camino.”

Added: Tuesday, April 25, 2023  /  Poem used with permission. It originally appeared in Vickie Vértiz's collection "Auto/Body" (University of Notre Dame Press, February 2023).
Vickie Vértiz
Photo by David Kennerly.

Vickie Vértiz is a writer and educator from Bell Gardens, CA. Her writing can be found in The New York Times Magazine, the Los Angeles Review of Books, and the San Francisco Chronicle. Vértiz's second collection of poetry, Auto/Body, won The University of Notre Dame’s 2022 Ernest Sandeen Prize in Poetry. She has been a fellow at Bread Loaf Environmental Writers’ Conference, Macondo Writers Workshop, CantoMundo, Vermont College of Fine Arts, and the Community of Writers. Her book Palm Frond with Its Throat Cut won a 2018 PEN America Literary Award for poetry. A graduate of Williams College, the University of Texas at Austin, and the University of California, Riverside, she teaches in the Writing Program at UC Santa Barbara.

Image Description: Writer and professor Vickie Vértiz smiles and wears a black and blue striped dress. She wears glasses with her salt and pepper hair to one side. In the background are bookshelves.

Other poems by this author