From the Country Notebooks

Geffrey Davis

            —after Brigit Pegeen Kelly

I.

Once upon a time, my father was offered a shovel
and ten minutes alone with the prized stallion—Just don’t
kill him.    Once upon a time, I asked about the apple-
knotted scar on my father’s back shoulder, as he dressed
for work: That’s from when Sammy tried to kill me.
Remember?    Once upon a time, my father accepted a shovel
and the problem of answering violence without loosing
too much blood from Sammy’s chestnut body, nervous
in the stable.    Once upon a time, I watched my father dare
to ride Sammy, who had only known breeding—: things
went fine, until his muzzle grazed a live wire that sent him
bucking, first with and then without the weight of my father
perched on his saddled back. Every witness there
broke open into a song called laughter.    Once upon a time,
my father couldn’t trust himself to spill just the blood
owed, and so chose torture’s slow ember over a quick-
flamed revenge:—for one long week, Sammy submitted
to the pull of hunger, easing his desire through
the narrow stall bars for a mouthful of sweet oats,
and then the shovel’s handle came down like lightning
across his beautiful face. My father did this
twice each day, despite the wounded wonder delivered
upon both creatures.    Once, Sammy escaped
and it took a lifetime to corral again the full force
of that gallop—to gather back the spirit and grace
of that temporary, hot-hearted freedom.

II.

My mother said I should not do it,
but all night I turned the horses loose.
The farmhouse slept, the coyotes hunted noisily.
I was a boy then, my chest its own field flowered by restlessness.
How many ropes to corral a herd?
I had none but a stubborn concern with steady hands
and the darkness of the summer wind which moved right through me
the way the coyotes moved through the woods with voices
that seemed to mourn the moonlit limits of this release
and those who had prayed for release before me.
I pulled each horse through the opened barn doors,
all night out into the pasture with little resistance, all night my hands
buried in manes as if I were descending into a new understanding,
all night my path a way toward recovery.
And then carrying its own kind of clemency, against
the tall forest of sharp pines, the morning came,
and inside me was the deep-pitched presence a howl builds
at the lonely center of its bawl, before the throat
remembers again that other sweet mercy, silence.
The light climbed into the pasture.
The coyotes were crying and then were not.
And the pasture was—I could see as I led
the last warm body to field—full of memory and motion.

More by Geffrey Davis

The Epistemology of Cheerios

this the week of our son’s first
upright wobble from kitchen

to living-room    and he begins planting
tiny Os wherever his fleshy fingers

can reach    each first shelf    each chair
cushion      each pair of shoes    he goes

to bury a piece behind the TV
inside the pool of exposed wires

we’ve been saving him from
since he took to motion     and I let him

go for it    he survives    but why
this risk    how costly this whole-

grain crumb    back from
the wilderness of worry    for whom

 

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.

The Epistemology of Rosemary

                     —for L

Together in the garden, a cigarette cradled
between her fingers, she tells me of breeding

cockatiels—clutch after successful clutch, and what
she can’t forget: the time of one-too-many and

the smallest chick pushed from the nest.
How she thought mistake and put it back again,

only to see the same, simple denial.
And then, for days, trying to make her hands

avian, to syringe-feed the bird into flight.
One thin month lies between us and our miscarriage,

and I feel her grow silent under the new vastness
of this wreckage. I try to talk about my father

breaking blighted pigeon eggs: at twelve, I thought
patience and pressed him to wait, one week, then two,

until frustration set and he crushed the shells
before me, against the coop. I wanted to gather up

each shard, to will those gossamer embryos
into growth again—          What do we rescue

now, at home, gleaning herbs in the evening,
as swallows swerve in the fallow air? I lean over

her shoulder: her hair smells of the rosemary we take,
and of the rosemary we leave to freeze in the garden.