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What I Mean When I Say Farmhouse
Time’s going has ebbed the moorings
to the memories that make this city-kid
part farm-boy. Until a smell close enough to
the sweet-musk of horse tunes my ears back
to tree frogs blossoming after a country rain.
I’m back among snakes like slugs wedged
in ankle-high grass, back inside that small
eternity spent searching for soft ground, straining
not to spill the water-logged heft of a drowned
barn cat carried in the shallow scoop of a shovel.
And my brother, large on the stairs, crying.
Each shift in the winds of remembering renders me
immediate again, like ancient valleys reignited
by more lightning. If only I could settle on
the porch of waiting and listening,
near the big maple bent by children and heat,
just before the sweeping threat of summer
thunderstorms. We have our places for
loneliness—that loaded asking of the body.
My mother stands beside the kitchen window, her hands
no longer in constant motion. And my father
walks along the tired fence, watching horses
and clouds roll down against the dying light—
I know he wants to become one or the other.
I want to jar the tenderness of seasons,
to crawl deep into the moment. I’ve come
to write less fear into the boy running
through the half-dark. I’ve come for the boy.
King County Metro
In Seattle, in 1982, my mother beholds this man
boarding the bus, the one she’s already
turning into my father. His style (if you can
call it that): disarming disregard—a loud
Hawaiian-print shirt and knee-high tube socks
that reach up the deep tone of his legs,
toward the dizzying orange of running shorts.
Outside, the gray city blocks lurch
past wet windows, as he starts his shy sway
down the aisle. Months will pass
before he shatters his ankle during a Navy drill,
the service discharging him back into the everyday
teeth of the world. Two of four kids will arrive
before he meets the friend who teaches him
the art of roofing and, soon after, the crack pipe—
the attention it takes to manage either
without destroying the hands. The air brakes gasp
as he approaches my mother’s row,
each failed rehab and jail sentence still
decades off in the distance. So much waits
in the fabulous folds of tomorrow.
And my mother, who will take twenty years
to burn out her love for him, hesitates a moment
before making room beside her—the striking
brown face, poised above her head, smiling.
My mother will blame all that happens,
both good and bad, on this smile, which glows now,
ready to consume half of everything it gives.
Call Me Now
—to my cousin
Take us then: two black boys plus the poverty line.
Take the 90s—we carried scratched rap
CDs concealed in bomber jackets,
sagged in baggy jeans and cocked
our hats backwards, in some small defiance
of the waking knowledge that a future
was barreling our way, possibility’s obscurity
fast behind it. Add the fathers we feared
becoming: stern fathers, who forgot to hug;
weak fathers, who forgot to hug. Add mothers
pinned beneath the never-ending work-week.
Then raise it all to the power of 3:00 a.m.
commercials with psychics giving better shapes
to tomorrow, for the full price of eggs, a gallon of milk
per minute. I still envy that you caved first
to the weight of your curiosity at the numinous bodies
we might burst into, that your voice, even then,
had a well deep enough to sound 18-or-older. “Fuck it,”
you mumbled and picked up the phone, clearing
the music in your throat. I tuned in
on a muted cordless, as you accepted
the charges for balancing the problem.
Factor in the operator who caught
the boy in your voice. Subtract her clairvoyant gaze,
but keep the costs: Call back when you’re older,
hon’. How could we calculate knowing
what we feared would be set into a fleshy stone,
would be cancelled out with other worries?
Although our mothers wore us out when
the phone bill arrived, I still carry the messy
formulas from those nights of testing touch-tone
combinations to the future: 1-800-
PLEASE 1-800-WHO-CAN-WE-BE ?
-from Revising the Storm
BIO: Geffrey Davis grew up in Tacoma, WA and teaches in the MFA program at The University of Arkansas. His first book, Revising the Storm (BOA Editions, 2014), won the A. Poulin, Jr. Poetry Prize. Other distinctions include the Anne Halley Prize, the Dogwood Prize, the Wabash Prize, the Leonard Steinberg Memorial/Academy of American Poets Prize, nominations for the Pushcart, and fellowships from the Cave Canem Foundation and Penn State's Institute for the Arts and Humanities.
Davis's poems have appeared in Crazyhorse, Green Mountains Review, The Greensboro Review, Hayden's Ferry Review, The Massachusetts Review, Mississippi Review, Nimrod International Journal, [PANK], Sycamore Review, and elsewhere, and have been reprinted at The Feminist Wire and Verse Daily. Part of his work as a literary citizen involves promoting the writing of others. To this end, he serves on the board of directors for Toe Good Poetry.