ELEGY FOR THE LONG DRIVE
When pops aired his words over space
to tell me grandma had a heart attack
I couldn’t hear the quiver in his voice.
I had just bought coffee in Queens
for a dollar & the steam of it when held
close to me made the inside of my nose
sweat. You are someone made by her,
I wanted to say. Can you cry for me,
dad? But no, we talked quiet & stern
like two boys tucked away in the corner
of a schoolyard, pretending at something
larger than themselves. We are all
someone made. God is the space
between the last word of a sentence
& a question mark. A heart attack
is the shake a pen makes as it scribbles
along a page. It is all so very human.
Most nights, before sleep, I think
of the slow rolling heave of my father’s
gut, of the breathing in & breathing
out, of his hands, nearing the pigment-
drained, speckled stage of old age.
When my grandma dies, tonight
in a hospital bed, or tomorrow,
I will remember the hush of her slippers
as they shuffled across the floor. I will
begin a sentence with didn’t she or
isn’t this where or I can’t believe or
she was so. Notice the space where
I didn’t place a question mark. I don’t
believe in God anymore. I believe
in my father & that long drive years ago
through the white-out, where even the truckers
pulled to the side of the road, the snow
a steady horizontal machine of erasure,
where we passed through the names of towns
so plains-like & lilted I could’ve sworn
the snow pattering against the window
was the brush drum of the song we inhabited.
Painted Post. Cooper’s Plain. Savona.
My father turned the radio low & from
the backseat I marbled him into a statue
made of miles. Most people forget the woman
who shouted out at Jesus, blessed is the womb
that bore you. My father didn’t. Each winter
he drove back toward it under cover
of darkness. Each winter he taught me
without words how to write an elegy.
You pray tonight the moon’s shine will shimmer candlewick & melt light across your floorboards, that your father will not die of a pain to hollow out his bones, that the ache in your chest is only just a tree growing inside your body. There are people on sidewalks kissing. They tiptoe into sky until the sun slants between them. Dawn arrives again & again, sometimes gold, sometimes carrying yesterday’s blood back from around the world, turning bird to black. You hum a word that isn’t enough enough in your mouth until it becomes enough. The swarm of infinity lies in the thrumming of a pair of wings – there’s a world here, spinning. See how it still spins when you look at it, how you know there are people here & how they’re so hard to see. How the bird’s blur means each wing alone is doing its job. It’s enough, isn’t it? What the world does to make you know your smallness. How it’s big & wide & everything you can’t do to conquer & everything you wouldn’t want to, anyway. I have a father who is still alive & most days I am still held by the soft miracle of kissing. There’s a bird alighting above a couple’s head. I want to tell them they are like trees, but I don’t want to scare the bird away.
Devin Kelly earned his MFA from Sarah Lawrence College and co-hosts the Dead Rabbits Reading Series in New York City. He is the author of the collaborative chapbook with Melissa Smyth, This Cup of Absence (Anchor & Plume) and the books, Blood on Blood (Unknown Press), and In This Quiet Church of Night, I Say Amen (forthcoming 2017, CCM Press). He has been nominated for both the Pushcart and Best of the Net Prizes. He works as a college advisor in Queens, teaches at the City College of New York, and lives in Harlem.