A Conversation with Steve Davis
From the stereo system
someone unnamed from the Golden Age
or so it seems
filters through the dancing smoke
on rolling rocks of Pennsylvania
glacier tympani in Yosemite
Hear that counterpoint
Cats don’t play that way anymore
modern day baroque
and most are broke
“Shit! Man…no more like this, no more…
god bless ‘em.”
Sweet sippin’ gin to
hands, fingers moving
grooving with the break,
Lace that shit,
it’s gotta stick.
Nothing’s too fast,
Nothing’s too fast,
keep up, cat.
“You can do this,
you won’t need a demo.”
Permanence of Ink
Moth banging against tinted window
not knowing the shortness of life.
Its seconds ticking away;
even grains of sand
The permanence of ink
crosses barriers of time,
the way we thought,
of life, love, and…death—
what color may it be—
for all to see eventually.
What color it may be,
it stands with no regards
ever since it’s been put on paper.
Much has been written,
Even more said, less remembered.
It doesn’t really matter.
record the significant
they tell me
I should keep the
on paper in ink
so I don’t forget
what I don’t need to remember
my father is gone
the smell gradually, too
the pictures don’t lie
but I’d rather have his
painting, black and white
he used to tell me—
I forget the exact words—
the gist was
to not forget
all that was
and will be important
what were those
he spoke to me that last day
Ah, “Don’t forget
what matters to you.
You can write it all
down, but even ink
in the city’s perfect emanation of light
the hungry man on the corner
holding a cup for change.
bring out his high cheekbones
ragged pants over thin thighs
eating into themselves.
Red light district
in fishnet stockings
and black leather miniskirt.
Street lights lining
dirt road curving
around a bend a paved highway
migrant worker and colleagues in an earth-brown
van headed southbound
to cabbage patches in Watsonville.
enveloping broken relationships
between high school sweethearts in their thirties
their six year-old on a porcelain horse
chasing a dream that will always stay
a few lengths away.
Wall Street lights
selling the junk bonds analyst
the idea of becoming a poet
his office light is not bright
enough for him to live comfortably,
but he feels fine.
waiting for the return
of a prodigal son
lost to necessities.
a migrant backache
from father to son.
An American daughter-in-law
our burden together.
Donna wears her emotions
on a flushed pale face
washed with ivory cream
what she brings to the table
mother taught her to wash and steam.
Her father and brother wonder
why I never finished business school,
but her mother is happy
her daughter is happy.
We drink red wine, Sonoma,
after everyone gets home from church;
sitting on the verandah
watching working cars go by
speaking of Marx and Aquinas
they are intrigued
but don’t understand
something Donna picked up
when we met at Catholic school
after late morning mass
I was studying alone
in my room
my father wanted a private education
I don’t show the pain
father says I have
a hard case, a soft heart
hidden from the people I know
especially Donna’s little brother
whom I gave shooting lessons
aim and technique—
elbow in, shoulders squared
—but no concentration,
something his father detests
my son’s burden
a homeless father
telling him he needs to be home
by midnight instead of orchard parties
surrounding pumpkin patches,
where the girls are prone
to get naked and pregnant.
T’is the difference between
bad poetry and good:
Bad poetry sometimes enthralls
the way a pretty girl standing at the bar
attracts the eyes
and tugs impulses.
Aspirations to Become the Starbucks Poet
Before my father died, I told him
I wanted to be the Starbucks poet.
He laughed and said
that was a sure way to go broke.
Though relatively uneducated, he knew
$3.35 for a Caffé Mocha is rather inflated.
I was 20, a junior in college
with caffeinated blood
and nicotine-caked lips.
He asked if I would spend the rest of my life
writing about sunsets and doves.
No, poetry isn’t like that anymore…
if it ever was.
“Great, now you won’t even get laid either.”
A poetry professor once told me that all poems have
a beginning, middle and end.
Did she mean birth, life and death?
Personally, I just wanted to sort words out
so they made a little bit of sense
when I scanned the page from left to right.
It became more complicated than I thought.
After my father died, I went through his things:
army fatigues, a stash of 120 one-hundred dollar bills,
his life savings all wrapped in silk and crisp from the mint,
stacks of religious books written in dead Chinese characters.
I was 21.
I took a summer course in Mandarin
to see if I could unlock the words.
The professor’s first lesson:
Read up and down and backwards.
I dropped after the second week,
the professor expected too much out of me,
the lone Asian in the class.
So, for a while, I visited as many different Starbucks as I could.
They were of all shapes and sizes,
but in their round logo, they all had the same green,
and the curvy chick.
Usually, I sat in a chair facing the bar.
It never ceased to amaze me
the amount of pretty young girls
willing to make my coffee to order.
Usually, I had the coffee of the day.
But, imagine a poetry book sitting on the shelves
with logo-clad mugs and baristas.
A marketing manager’s dream.
It’d make a killing,
and Valentine’s Day.
My father was a small-time farmer
who woke with roosters and the sun.
He lived with cracked hands and leathery skin,
and when I was born, he wanted
a doctor or a businessman for a son.
Instead, he got a small-time alcoholic
with undisciplined money management.
But when I’m at a bar, I can still spot a farmer:
the ones with dust on their shoes,
and they drink beer and liquor, “neat.”
They’re honest and they shoot pool straight.
My father speaks
before the family at the dinner table.
[My mother provides the translations.]
I cried, coming out headfirst.
“Happy days are just over the mountaintop.
The struggle has ended.”
She brings countless plates;
frisbees with food for my American friends.
He eyes them and grins.
(Chew. Don’t choke.
Moderation is key.)
His face is flushed; blushing
from the cognac.
Do we have any rice wine?
“Soon, a lifelong friend shall be made.”
Katie wants a platinum ring with diamonds,
not gold bars and a beheaded chicken.
“You have a strong desire.
But wait, family interests come first.”
Je t’aime, mais j’adore mon père.
Oui, je comprend...
mais, voulez-vous coucher avec moi?
It’s a romance language.
(Fuck you!) Aix meih!
In the foothills,
the sun shines on the priest.
are next to innocence.”
Yie mv hiuv.
During the holidays,
our waists become thicker,
the air becomes thinner.
“Hire a blonde secretary,” he says.
We eat Vietnamese take-out,
splattering oyster sauce over the contracts.
She wears glossy lipstick,
on her neck, a crucifix.
Katie sponges my father’s back
and lights sandalwood incense at night,
burning my nasal cavity.
He whispers, “Your wisest counselor is you.”
sounds like laughter
when she forgets a word.
Katie holds her hand,
they stare through the silent crowd across the room:
an uninvited stranger
needs to be fed.