Geoff Anderson curated Columbus, OH's first poetry shows for biracial writers
(The Other Box), translation (Lingua Franca), and immigration (New World).
He's a Callaloo fellow and his chapbook, Humming Dirges, won Paper Nautilus'
Debut Series (2017). He is assistant poetry editor with Flypaper Mag, and he has
work on or forthcoming in The Normal School Online, RHINO, Southern Indiana
Review, and www.andersongeoff.com.
Meeting my son, our guests'
chuckle in relief when I say
yes, he is much paler than we
expected: denim irises, straw locks.
Men must be recessive in my family—
my father sees my mother in me;
yes, I mean her skin. White
is to erase as black is to disappear.
Too dark, perhaps. But he loves
to retell the night I fell asleep,
my hair flat against my scalp;
woke to find a bed of curls
in its place, a little proof of his
existence. It sounds selfish:
I check my son's head
each morning. Even the wildest
hair straightens with oil
from my palms. The longest
drapes down his brows
to those cotton lashes:
eyes that reflect my eyes,
I understand little about the expressway,
the speed limit a gallop after the red
lights I accept to a fault. The rush to take
the wheel amazes me until I remember
the faster my body moves, the less
it resists. What little I learned in science
got shoved in my face like a sterile beaker.
How to know the liquid inside the glass
couldn't kill me? Drink? Prod with a straight
edge? Inhale? Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.
16 marks when parents start to give up
key fobs, scratch free fenders, worse;
the age a teacher kept me from reaching
into phosphoric acid with my thumb.
Papers say a classmate pressed the gas
by accident. A brick wall stops the biggest
pickup. The more painful the lesson,
the less it escapes me. I recall
the tests best, multiple choice, right
responses saddled next to flawed cousins,
the way an accelerator seesaws with a brake.
As in, there are always more mistakes
than correct answers in school, or out.
I pass the bouquets, the wilted masonry.
I forget I am closer to regretting
the driver's license in my wallet each
time my seat belt bites its tongue.
to guide my son to sleep ii
call me a father but it does not mean I am
able to stop the inevitable fear that comes
with the night the wind voices between
the brick houses the raccoons bore into
the siding through the gutter all night
teeth and claws sharpen beneath us why
I leave the sound machine on white noise
in favor of gold finches recorded in hemlock
the plow of waves mowing down a rocky shore
it is the grating found on television a channel
above the horrors that crept on after my parents
had gone up to bed those burned out
chandelier bulbs replaced for any extra light
they could crank out in one film a child
a quarter my age got swallowed whole by the screen
in one film a ghost climbed out of the display
her pale hands drips on the polished concrete
floors her hair dragged across for nights
I could not be alone with a television set here I teach
my son to sleep to the sound I once lay awake praying
never to hear now it is the gnawing of the wood
under the box spring that keeps me up another demon
he may sleep with better than me but then
what terrors will my son have left if not my own
An old classmate is the Yeadon man
charged with murder, the homeroom
we barely shared a decade away.
A golf course is handcuffed with tape,
an eagle rotting in the rough. I know
next to nothing of people I am closest to.
A neighbor I can't even give a name
hands me a crate, stapled wood
bursting with Sumo oranges. Three years,
I say as he climbs in a U-Haul;
how long I have gone by this address
and never have we exchanged a word.
My confession is a mandarin
feels heaviest in my mouth;
a handshake gives a goodbye
a weight. A part of me believes
if I had introduced myself better,
someone else could be alive today
or stopped from shoving teeth
down the ignition's throat. As if
it was me, clutching a cleaver
those days I never said hello.
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