- Comment Policy
- Contact Us
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
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.
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.
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.
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?
Geffrey 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.