Grandfather, I am driving your memory back to the shed.
Your tractor’s power steering is shot, and navigation demands
a farmer’s muscle to raise specter-gray clouds of soil.
Diesel smoke stays in this baggy work shirt, and it triggers
your lessons: solenoid, starter, alternator, filter, and all
the anatomy I’d need to keep your machine intact.
Like a staggering November deer, this mechanical animal
is wounded—dripping red liquid down every middle,
its bleating gears draw a DNA spiral of vultures.
Everything falters. Even with tools of lineage and legacy,
I cannot pour—I cannot keep—life inside it. To get enough
jump for juice, I charge the battery overnight and pray.
Stubborn, it will crank again, sensing the wrong spirit controls
its way. These unscarred fingers, these lineless eyes know
city currency, university books. They fail the stiff-turning wheel.
Whittling Lessons from an Absentee Father
Always away; never toward.
Gripping knife and stick, he teaches
Gripping knife how to cut with intentional leisure:
Gripping knife shun the bark and push the pulp
Gripping knife out into the world. Avoid
Gripping knife a sliced thumb, a punctured gut.
Better to release the difficult
Gripping knife crooked twigs and knotty stems
Gripping knife than to pay with flesh and blood
Gripping knife for wood that wouldn’t yield
Gripping knife to your carve or peel or score.
With sap and scent, pine satisfies
Gripping knife and shucking oaks’ thick skin exposes
Gripping knife nature’s pores and dimples beneath
Gripping knife the weakened hide of time:
Gripping knife perfect for stripping, forgetting.
John Davis Jr. is the author of Hard Inheritance (Five Oaks Press, 2016), Middle Class American Proverb (Negative Capability Press, 2014), and two other collections of poetry. His work has been published in literary journals internationally, including appearances in Nashville Review, Steel Toe Review, Deep South magazine, and many, many other southern venues. He holds an MFA from University of Tampa.
(Photo credit: Flickr.)