Poetry and Arts

Poems by Geffrey Davis

What I Mean When I Say Truck Driver

During the last 50 miles back from haul & some
months past my 15th birthday, my father fishes
a stuffed polar bear from a Salvation Army
gift-bin, labeled Boys: 6-10. I can almost see him
approach the decision: cold, a little hungry, not enough

money in his pocket for coffee. He worries
he might fall asleep behind the wheel as his giant,
clumsy love for that small word—son—guides
his gaze to the crudely-sewn fabric of the miniature bear
down at the bottom of the barrel. Seasons have flared

& gone out with little change in his fear of stopping
for too long in any city, where he knows the addict
in him waits, patient as a desert bloom. Meanwhile, me:
his eldest child, the uneasy guardian of the house.
In his absence, I’ve not yet lost my virginity,

but I’ve had fist-fights with grown men & seen
my mother dragging her religious beliefs to the bitter
border of divorce. For years my father’s had trouble
saying no to crack-cocaine & women flowered in cheap
summer dresses. Watch his face as he arrives at last

& stretches the toy out, my mother fixed
on the porch behind me, the word son suddenly heavy
in my father’s mouth, his gray coat gathered
around his shoulders: he’s never looked so small.
We could crush him—we hug him instead.



Weekends too, my father roofed poor neighborhoods,
at prices only his back could carry

into profit. After he convinced our mother of
labor’s virtue—or was it another bill collector’s

callous calls 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 chances
to patch over his latest night in county jail, to shout

over something other than his drug-induced 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 spent tending to his home-made

kit-box of birds, bathed in the constant coos
from a mongrel mix: orphaned Birmingham rollers

and a few 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.

Geffrey Davis, “What I Mean When I Say Truck Driver” and “Unfledged” from Revising the Storm. Copyright © 2014 by Geffrey Davis. Reprinted with the permission of The Permissions Company, LLC on behalf of BOA Editions, Ltd., www.boaeditions.org. Geffrey Davis is the author of two full-length collections: Night Angler, winner of the James Laughlin Award from the Academy of American Poets, and Revising the Storm, winner of the A. Poulin, Jr. Poetry Prize. His poems have appeared in The New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker, PBS NewsHour, Ploughshares, and elsewhere. He is the recipient of an award from the Whiting Foundation for his involvement with The Prison Story Project, which strives to empower incarcerated women and men in Arkansas to tell their own stories through writing.


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