Figured I’d share my poem from the newest DPP anthology What Sort of Fuckery Is This?
The book is, at it’s heart, a book about the fuckery of aging and the persistence of the human spirit.
And, without further ado, here is my poem. If you like it, maybe you can read the whole book!
Never Sink, Dammit
Her clean blond hair is neatly pinned up and shows it-
the tattoo on the back of her neck that says Never Sink-
an infinity 8 entwined into an anchor.
Though the tat is old, it still looks like it is new and barbed into her skin.
Her hands are dirty, grease smudged over and under her trimmed nails, on the skin,
from repairing her radiator this morning after she delivered the News Journal,
after she fell asleep for one, only one second while delivering the News Journal
and hit the decorative boulder of the development
into which she was driving to deliver the News Journal.
And if she was going to fall asleep for only one second
couldn’t the one second have been a second where her car went straight?
Maybe the stacks of News Journals had shifted in the back, pulled her into the rock.
Maybe it was inevitable.
Her arms are scratched and cut up, red
from reaching into the hot car to fix the radiator and put in the new hose,
which was a tight squeeze,
which was something she had to do so she could drive to college this morning
after cracking up on the paper route.
Paper route- Ha! What a name we give it.
I’m not talking smiling-1950s-ten-year-old-boy-with-a-perfect-bike-and-a-clean-and-neat-satchel paper route.
I am talking beat-up Chevy Malibu paper route
named Betsy just like my mother’s broke-down Malibu was,
and this student squeezed her pink, white, strong, tight-fleshed capable forearms in there
and fixed the dang thing herself
with skills she learned over time watching YouTube videos
because she got tired-a-paying for fixing.
My student’s fingers are covered with little dark spots that look like scabs,
which she rubs and tells me are probably chiggers,
and are probably on her back too,
and are probably from laying under the car in the sandy dirt next to the house in the early dawn,
after she got home from delivering the News Journal
because she had to fix that radiator quick,
quick as that one small dammed second she fell asleep driving.
Everything has to be quick quick
because she had to get the kids up and dressed and fed and washed and ready and off to school
so that she could go to school herself,
so that she could come to my class,
35 minutes late,
because she is so happy to be going back to school,
though she is embarrassed about her hands,
but I tell her the hands are okay.
I give her some oatmeal hand cream and a bag for her books,
stay 45 minutes late so she can finish an assignment from the next unit forward
because she craves the quiet before she goes to work at Walmart,
and she wants to be ahead in class assignments just in case. Just in case. She knows how it goes.
When she finishes next week’s work and hits submit, I tell her the truth,
which is that she is doing great in class.
And when she packs up my old book bag and rushes out the door to Walmart
her smile is a big as a smile can be
on a sinewy single mom who has spent the last 8 hours delivering the News Journal in the dark,
crashing her car,
fixing her radiator in the pre-dawn light on her back in a bed of sandy chiggers,
then getting her kids off to school with them looking like somebody cares and with hot food in them.
To rush to come and see me with a light in her eyes the tired can not yet extinguish.
To rush to come and spend two hours and 45 earnest minutes
pecking away on a one-paragraph summary of an essay
that analyzes zombie movies.
It was written by a privileged Hollywood son, that essay.
The school picked it for the classes to summarize
because it is “culturally significant”
because “the students can relate.”
My student leaves me that day, a week ahead on her assignments, smiling, stepping lightly.
I never see her again.
I guess this is the moment where people who believe pray,
but I have had too many of her sisters to believe in magic, though I look for her every day.
And every day morning slips away from me into afternoon, and I leave the classroom to head to my own second job,
second of three,
so, I know, when it comes down to it,
there is nothing to do but put the rubber on the road and burn it up as long as there is rubber to burn.
Fill up the bags with books and computer and work and supplies.
Sling ’em over the droopy shoulder.
Raise the empty travel coffee mug to all those seen and never seen again
Suck out that last little drop of wet air.
Vow to never sink, dammit.