Route 1 North, Philadelphia to Highland Park
Your father has given you the wheel.
The mostly-empty highway offers
your 17 year-old road eyes no distractions,
and the Firebird descending the on-ramp is red.
The left turn signal isn’t instinctive yet,
nor is the glance that checks your blind spot
before the lane change. But as you settle
back into the forward focus of highway driving
your father’s hand covers your gearshift-perched
right, his mouth curling before opening, “Good job.”
He doesn’t remind you that sharing the road
with newcomers is less instinctual for you
than your blind-spot check. He is all praise,
and when the therapist asks, ten years later,
what you miss—how you imagined him
feeling when you pictured handing over
the grandchild he will never know—you remember
that he never held praise too tightly, that he
knew confidence as a vested commodity,
its installation as vital as anything fathers give sons.
After a photograph of Kenyan elephant poachers
Start at his hand, not grasping
though this trunk is precious with promise.
Follow the gentle curve to his brother’s—
this much potential is so heavy their hands
heft together, balance the burden, the possibility
of this ivory polished, sundered into earrings,
necklaces, gentle carvings of small elephants.
Follow from their hands to the
end of the tusk where the body begins,
another tusk promising more prosperity,
waiting to be freed from the perfect stillness,
the liberator frozen mid-swing, his body
all business, ligament and muscle mid-flex,
the axe poised, anticipating its work
gleaming blade catching the sun and look
at the sky, clouds complementing the ivory,
white patches blotted gently against blue.
Look one more time at the trees’ gently
reaching branches, their line picked up
by the brush that leads your eye back
to the brothers, gazes fixed on the tusk,
calculations grazing in their heads.
Hayes Davis holds a Masters of Fine Arts from the University of Maryland; he is a member of Cave Canem's first cohort of fellows, a former Bread Loaf working scholar, and a former Geraldine Miles Poet-Scholar at the Squaw Valley Community of Writers. His first volume of poems, Let Our Eyes Linger, was published by Poetry Mututal Press in April, 2016. His work has appeared in New England Review, Poet Lore, Gargoyle, Delaware Poetry Review, Kinfolks, and several anthologies. He teaches English at Sidwell Friends School in Washington, DC, and lives in Silver Spring with his wife, poet Teri Ellen Cross Davis, and their children. To read more by this author: Four Poems (Winter 2007); "America" (Langston Hughes Tribute Issue, Winter 2011).