Geffrey Davis


           Although I know better, I can still

consider crack the god responsible

           for my father’s failure to shake anything

but rotten fruit from the smoking tree

           of no-loneliness—: he trailed the miracle

of pyrolysis and forfeited the light

           inside his own name. Damn the subjection

of organic compounds. Damn the numbing

           decomposition. Damn the sweet-sick taste,

as if love. I want crack to release

           my fucking father from the flame.

Let us tend to the coldness of his pain.

From the Country Notebooks

           —after Brigit Pegeen Kelly

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.


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.


My arms become two battered branches the first time

I reach toward the not yet rankled tenderness of my son’s

backside, bound to the pre-gnaw of a soiled diaper.

L lies in our living room, postpartum and pitched

inside the warm depth of her own recovery, body busy

with soothing the glory of its new stitching. How many

darknesses can turn a desire? How many good breaths

to cast one wound from the sky? I open as if breaking

until a sudden and enthusiastic and sunshiny geyser of urine

from my son’s penis startles me into the inane proverb

of a laughter you never see coming. My hands still shake

as I cinch the boy back into the thin cleanliness

of another waiting. And, yes, eventually I weep—:

but only after, and only outside, kneeling in the garden,

well beyond the indivisible light of his future. Amen.

Author's note on "From the Country Notebooks": The structure of the second section follows—in debt and in honor—“The Leaving,” from To the Place of Trumpets by Brigit Pegeen Kelly (Rest In Power).

Geffrey Davis is the author of Night Angler (BOA Editions, 2019), winner of the James Laughlin Award, and Revising the Storm (BOA Editions, 2014), winner of the A. Poulin, Jr. Poetry Prize. He has received fellowships from Bread Loaf, Cave Canem, and the Vermont Studio Center, and his poems have been published by Crazyhorse, New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker, and Ploughshares. Davis teaches at the University of Arkansas and The Rainier Writing Workshop.