What did I know, what did I know

of love’s austere and lonely offices?

— Robert Hayden

Weekends too my father roofed poor neighborhoods,

at prices only his back could carry


into profit.  In the name of labor’s

virtue—or was it another bill collector’s callous


calling 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

chance to patch over his latest night in county jail, to shout


over something other than his drug-heavy 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 tended to his own home-made

kit-box of birds, bathed in the constant coos


from a mongrel mix of orphaned Birmingham rollers

and 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.

Bibliographical info

Geffrey Davis, “Unfledged” from Revising the Storm. Copyright © 2014 by Geffrey Davis. Used with the permission of the Permissions Company, LLC on behalf of BOA Editions Ltd, Rochester.

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