Serving House: A Journal of Literary Arts
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SHJ Issue 1
Spring 2010

[Two Poems]

Steve Davenport

Last Night My Bed a Boat of Whiskey Going Down

My course last night no different: nailed to the bedroom
window frame a fitted sheet straining like a sail,
collapsing like a lung. Rise and fall, rise and fall
of another night the same: my head a hammer
in the hold, a scribbling fist in the captain’s log.
All this it seemed the same: the reluctant bachelor
and his bed a boat of whiskey tacking starboard
into the drink drank drunk he think thank thunk. And sunk.
This morning life’s no ocean and this bed’s not mired
in the drink of another low tide. I’ve neither
drifted from the mainstream nor washed ashore, flotsam
and jetsam like wrappers and butts. On the table
across the room a drum. Against the wall the books
are stacked like stacked books. Above the dresser a clock.

—From Uncontainable Noise (Pavement Saw Press, 2006). Published previously in Chachalaca Poetry Review 1.1 (1997) as “The Drinking Thinking Sinking No Ocean Sonnet.”

Hartford, Illinois

In the one tattooed on my right forearm, your father’s
father, my father, born 1930, rides a blue ox
and picks his teeth with railroad ties. On the back

of my neck, I wear the union brand: leather boot,
a fist, and a company truck tipped over and burning
like a chip on my father’s father’s right shoulder. On

my left arm, over that same shoulder, his shoulder,
some men knocking a shack together and signs
to tell their story. It’s 1933. They’re talking union

on the tracks this side of the International Shoe
Tannery property line. Your father’s father,
my father, worked as a Shell Oil pipefitter

a mile east, other side of the Tannery, before retiring,
1982, a Shell company man in Louisiana. On strike
in 1962 he took me, your father, born 1954, to a union

shack at midnight. We slept outside in the back
of our station wagon. Today the Tannery’s a vacant
Shell property, and Hartford’s burning on my skin

like the ground under 507 N. Olive, my birth home,
Hartford dirt soaked with decades of product
piped from White Star, Sinclair, Standard, Roxana,

Shell, Clark, Premcor, carried over and piped under
the tracks laid by the Big-4 and the CP&StL,
to the canal, the barges, and the confluence,

Mississippi and Missouri, that attracted Lewis
and Clark in December 1803. Here, it’s May 1998,
my father’s still alive, and he’s inking a final

two-frame tattoo on my chest. In it, first frame,
my father’s father’s telling his friend Tennessee,
journeyman boxer turned union buster, to take

his boys and leave, that if he, Tennessee, takes
one more step, puts boot to the next tie, he,
my father’s father, will kill him with his hands

right there. In the second frame, Tennessee’s
telling that story to my father, who’s telling
his kid brother, born 1946, who’s telling me

so I’ll tell you. Like movie dialogue. Tennessee
didn’t want to die that day. It’s what I have
to work with, to explain my skin to you. We’re

all there, 1933, on the Tannery tracks talking
union. Our arms are like hams, our waists
thirty inches, and we can stop a man

with our eyes. There’s a Hartford tattoo
on my father’s belly, deep in the skin. It’s 1973.
The scene’s a sidewalk, northeast corner Delmar

and Elm. The Tomlovic son’s washing the family
crime, our crime, blood and brains of a shotgun
murder-suicide off the walls of his family’s store,

the first store built in Hartford, incorporated
in 1920. My father grew up on Elm, just over
the tracks. The Tannery was built in 1916.

My father was a union man, Plumbers &
Pipefitters Local 553, Wood River, and then
he wasn’t. I used to work at Peavey Flour Mill,

later talked Marxism at a private college,
hung IWW posters on my office walls.
My father’s father died when my father

was eleven. My father never got the tattoo
he wanted, the one in which his favorite cousin
did not kill his wife and then himself. My father

could not stop family history. Next year he
will die unexpectedly. Hartford burns on my
skin, inks these tattoos I give you, my daughter.

—From Uncontainable Noise, Pavement Saw Press (2006)

“...we have been born here to witness and celebrate. We wonder at our purpose for living. Our purpose
is to perceive the fantastic. Why have a universe if there is no audience?” — Ray Bradbury