Hear the Light

Geffrey Davis

—at The Giant Heart, The Franklin Institute (Philadelphia, PA)


Today the boy won’t rest long enough
for me to burn a single metaphor
back to whether precision or

prayer leavens the language I need
cast into the well of our survival. And then
the boy urges my turn to stay

poised on a floor scale while watching 24
chilling cups of hurt-colored liquid spill
into a clear cylinder. The gutted window

to the privacy of blood harbored
in this body thins the daily belief
that no sick imaginary could cut us

full open. And then the boy gawks around
a carousel of animal hearts, fidgets against
his surprise at the smallness of the lion’s

carnal engine beside the cow’s. Before
I can weigh the un-chambered bellows
of hunger, the boy begins to sound

a panel that plays the pulse of each animal.
He doesn’t linger with a blood-music; he keeps
mashing buttons at random—from the canary’s

constant lift to the cavernous crawl
of the blue whale—until I can’t see living
inside a god-rhythm that soothes

this earthly cacophony pleading
toward the dark effort of tomorrow.
By now, I have a strange image for heart

filling my mouth. I’m remembering
the tiny fleshy pyramids my own father
cleaned from sunfish. When they ceased

their tight contractions, I strained
to recognize the heart-ness in his hand,
sometimes pressing down into the soft

plunge of his palm to witness one
last lunge. This memory dissolves because
the boy dashes off, and then I’m chasing him

through the beating corridors of a giant
vascular room. The way is dim
and narrow—: I’m working hard to keep up.

I’m trying not to lose the boy
inside the heart. But every time I hear the light
of his laughter murmur across another

distance, I breathe into the new blessing
his life has kindled from the space between us:—
I think I could survive like this all day.
 

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.

Related Poems

A Boy Juggling a Soccer Ball

   after practice: right foot
to left foot, stepping forward and back, 
   to right foot and left foot,
and left foot up to his thigh, holding 
   it on his thigh as he twists
around in a circle, until it rolls 
   down the inside of his leg,
like a tickle of sweat, not catching 
   and tapping on the soft
side of his foot, and juggling
   once, twice, three times,
hopping on one foot like a jump-roper 
   in the gym, now trapping
and holding the ball in midair, 
   balancing it on the instep
of his weak left foot, stepping forward 
   and forward and back, then
lifting it overhead until it hangs there; 
   and squaring off his body,
he keeps the ball aloft with a nudge 
   of his neck, heading it
from side to side, softer and softer, 
   like a dying refrain,
until the ball, slowing, balances 
   itself on his hairline,
the hot sun and sweat filling his eyes 
   as he jiggles this way
and that, then flicking it up gently, 
   hunching his shoulders
and tilting his head back, he traps it 
   in the hollow of his neck,
and bending at the waist, sees his shadow, 
   his dangling T-shirt, the bent
blades of brown grass in summer heat; 
   and relaxing, the ball slipping
down his back. . .and missing his foot.

   He wheels around, he marches 
over the ball, as if it were a rock
   he stumbled into, and pressing
his left foot against it, he pushes it
   against the inside of his right 
until it pops into the air, is heeled
   over his head—the rainbow!—
and settles on his extended thigh before
   rolling over his knee and down 
his shin, so he can juggle it again
   from his left foot to his right foot
—and right foot to left foot to thigh—
   as he wanders, on the last day
of summer, around the empty field.