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2 poems by Geffrey Davis - The Feminist Wire

2 poems by Geffrey Davis

Unfledged

 

What did I know, what did I know

of love’s austere and lonely offices?

— Robert Hayden

 

 

Weekends too my father roofed poor neighborhoods,

at prices only his back could carry

 

into profit.  In the name of labor’s

virtue—or was it another bill collector’s callous

 

calling again?—my brother and I became

his two-boy cleanup crew.  During those hard,

 

gloved hours under the sun’s weight, I studied

my father, from the ground—the distance he kept

 

between us his version of worry.  This work gave him

chance to patch over his latest night in county jail, to shout

 

over something other than his drug-heavy belly song.

More than witnessing the way he knew a hammer,

 

more than the sweat, the grace of his body grew

when I noticed the cheap pigeon magazines tucked

 

in his back pocket—black & white photos

of pedigreed squabs he’d fallen for, folded

 

for a later that never came: the careful study we do

with things that refuse to become ours.

 

Evenings, he tended to his own home-made

kit-box of birds, bathed in the constant coos

 

from a mongrel mix of orphaned Birmingham rollers

and hand-captured homers that he bred the distance out of,

 

turning our block into the new destination

their blood pulled them toward.  On the job,

 

from below, as he perched and drove nails through

the day’s heat, I checked the silhouetted length of his back

 

for signs of stiffness, and his impossible arms, anything

I might point to—certain, like most people,

 

if the ache could be found, you’d know

how to start soothing, where to place your hands.

 

 

What We Set in Motion

I.

 

Months out from my bout, I return home

after training deltoids and biceps to push

 

past the letdown of exertion—to never

stop throwing punches.  Our baby boy

 

bides time in L’s belly, two weeks late,

and she smiles, names me her gentle boxer

 

as I shadow my way down the hall

toward the shower.  The next day,

 

after zero centimeters worth of progress,

she sends me back to the gym to spar,

 

to save my mind from running

the unnecessary laps.  I spend round after

 

round risking and taking damage,

in search of that perfect left hook

 

to the body, that soft mid-section crunch.

I land a few home and feel the accuracy

 

moving deeper than mechanics,

burying itself in the blue memory

 

below.  Inside the ring I sweat out everything

but bob and weave, but balance and breath, bearing

 

each combination’s bad intent, until brutality

blossoms into something almost beautiful.

 

 

II.

 

And then it’s time—as in the dark, we’re in it:

maternity wing of the hospital, the lengthening

hours of our son’s slow arrival.  As in the dark,

a contraction’s wave ends, the wash of pain receding,

and L leans back into the rocking chair, back

into the chasm of exhaustion, eyelids

locking her exit from the room. I squat before her

and wait, her body buoyed in the open sea of labor,

as in the dark.  My gaze fixes on the map

of monitors, scanning that pixilated horizon

for the next contraction’s approach.  When it does,

as in the dark, her eyes flare inside the room

once more, hands raising to clasp

behind my neck, as in the dark.  I hear the moan

of her spirit bearing this being into light, and I lift

her loaded weight, place pressure

on her hips and say, give me everything,

darling, as in the dark.  There is no word for the infinite

divide between my desire and my inability to rock

this boy’s burden from her, to rock her from the tides

of hurt he’s riding in on—this is all her.  As from the dark,

as from the sea, another wave builds inside her,

and I send whispers across water, coaching her deeper

into the swallow of its force, calling it what we want,

calling it love or joy or peace, as in the dark, barely trusting

each moment that moves her further from this shore,

where I wait for her, to plant our son into these arms.

 

 

III.

 

When they tell us no more fluids.  When they tell us time

has scorched the well of his arrival.  When urgency cuts through

 

each gowned voice in the delivery room, the ghost in L’s face

says let them, and so we let them mine him by fire—with and through fire.

 

Restraints.  No breath.  Regional anesthesia.  No breath.  Nerve block.

Incision.  Hemorrhage.  And then he adds the sharp thunder of his cry

 

to the elements.  They place him at the altar of her chest.  With one hand

free to touch the curl and moisture of his hair, smoke clears from her smile.

 

 

IV.

 

In the nursery, this new kind of quiet

stretches itself inside the plastic, hospital-issued bassinet,

 

and I stare at my feet—

a sudden fear over the distance down

 

to them, over having no prayer for looking

into our son’s face, years from now, finding

 

it thinner, the flesh pulled tighter

around the cathedral of his skull,

 

the mind behind his eyes more

like ours, more tacked to the brittleness

 

of yesterday, days stacking into months,

memories like seeds spilled across another year.

 

What’s the ritual for forgiving ourselves

the mortal promise we set in motion,

 

pressed between the floral sheets,

planting his life’s fabric into death’s seam?

 

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gdavis_photoGeffrey Davis’s debut collection, Revising the Storm, won the 2013 A. Poulin, Jr. Poetry Prize and will be published by BOA Editions in early 2014. He has poems appearing in Crazyhorse, The Greensboro Review, The Massachusetts Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Mississippi Review, Nimrod, [PANK]Sycamore Review, and Zone 3, among others. He considers the South Puget Sound “home”—though he’s been raised by much more of the Pacific Northwest.

These poems were first published in New Madrid and Dogwood, respectively.