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Monday, November 25, 2013

Contributor Spotlight: Geffrey Davis

I can recall the exact moment I started drafting the piece that became “Like This, For a Reason.” I was childless and blowing off a few conference sessions to see Manhattan when my mother called to say that she needed surgery. She had been experiencing blurriness in her vision for months and finally scheduled an eye exam, expecting to need new glasses, only to find out she had developed a cataract. As it’s rare for women her age to have this condition, the optometrist inquired after trauma that could explain the damage in her eye. Two decades of domestic abuse sprung up in her memory, and tears came with them.

The head of a household torn in various measures by poverty, addiction, betrayal, violence, &c., my mother was no stranger to a model of care that demanded she face down tragedy. Over the phone that day, she told me how gentle and apologetic the doctor had been after realizing the past he had dredged up. She told me that, after another one of her touchstone “good cries,” she turned her attention away from old wounds and toward her upcoming surgery—or, as she put it, toward getting her color back: over time, a cataract’s cloud will fade the color spectrum.

After we hung up, that phrase—getting color back—turned in my head, hummed against the sounds of New York city traffic, building connections between the many occasions I’d seen my mother approach grief in this manner, disarming it with the power and delicacy of naming.

She didn’t always cry in these moments—in fact, just as often, she fiercely refused to let “them” see her cry—but, when she did, it only started the earnest work of admitting grief’s sudden presence in the room. Then she made sure her children watched as she began to spin possibility and stitch a futurity from what could be salvaged in the aftermath, clothing herself in a survivor’s kind of hope, which she only asked to get her to the other side of her newest loss.

In “Meditation at a Pennsylvania Diner: Early Morning,” I think I’m trying to put a similar lesson into play: resisting the kind of recall that wants to devolve into regret and enacting a choice to reconsider rather than mourn. That said, despite its sincere effort, I’m a little suspicious about how successfully the poem bucks frustration and/or repairs reflection. More specifically, in certain places I feel its humor sharpening rather than managing underlying feelings of pain and anger—which isn’t to say the implied lesson fails, just that the ability to love through such grief is an ongoing negotiation and a somewhat jagged process of growth (for this poet, at least).

Lately I’ve found myself chewing on the final lines of Robert Hayden’s frequently anthologized poem, “Those Winter Sundays”: What did I know, what did I know / of love’s austere and lonely offices. A father myself now, I think it’s because I’ve started changing how I look for the discreet, fire-building work of love. What’s more, I’ve come to understand how that “austere and lonely office” can be the mind—a psychic isolation created by differences in our understanding of what love’s labor looks like / where love’s labor is supposed to happen. And so I find these lines heating my mouth on the bus or in line at the post office or walking up and down grocery store aisles, whenever I glimpse what I believe to be some stranger’s love-effort. Although I didn’t fully sense it at the time, I think this desire to witness what I didn’t-but-needed-to know of love’s quiet challenges also catalyzed the poems that appear in HFR 53.

Geffrey Davis holds an MFA from Penn State University. His debut collection, Revising the Storm, received the 2013 A. Poulin, Jr. Poetry Prize and will be published by BOA Editions in April 2014. His awards also include fellowships from the Cave Canem Foundation, the Dogwood First Prize in Poetry, the Wabash Prize for Poetry, and the Leonard Steinberg Memorial/Academy of American Poets Prize. He has poems published or forthcoming in a variety of journals, among them Crazyhorse, The Greensboro Review, The Massachusetts Review, Mid-American Review, Mississippi Review, Nimrod, [PANK], and Sycamore Review. He considers the South Puget Sound “home”—though he’s been raised by much more of the Pacific Northwest and now by central Pennsylvania as well. His poems “Like This, For a Reason” and “Meditation at a Pennsylvania Diner: Early Morning” appear in HFR 53: Departure.

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