Redefining north.

Two poems from Adam Tavel

Two poems from Adam Tavel


Infant Refuge

Texas, 1958

Seven months without a gig. Odessa
can't tell the difference between August
and April. Bible-thumping DJs guess
the drought will last until the good Lord thrusts
his righteous lips beyond the clouds to gust
relief across the Gulf. Tiptoeing stairs,
Orbison dodges the glinting busted
bottles that shimmer in the spectral glare

of his apartment's single hallway light.
The night is licorice. More rendered fat
from the chicken plant writhes its stink inside
the only Cadillac for miles. The matte
scuffed Ramirez across his lap goes flat
when tuned against his hummed falsetto E.
Its month-old strings are nearly blown. The vats
downtown putresce each chord to smithereens

so the static radio lullabies
twin orthogonal slumps in bucket seats.
The Sears portrait of Roy's infant son glides
and skates across the dash in rammish breezes
through tinted windows' slits. A milkman glares
and scouts to rap his bottle cap at dawn:
Mister, you better get that gal in there
back home before her daddy knows she's gone.


The 1909 Maryland Field Phantoms of Lewis Wickes Hine, National Child Labor Committee Photographer

I. Irvan Stevans, A Young Berry Picker for Farrand Packing Co. on Curran's Farm, Where He & Another Boy Were the Only Whites Working with a Large Number of Negroes & Bad Language Was Abundant

Fuck this mush-crop half rotted on the vine,
this field more sand than soil, old bossman sun
our redneck whipcrack honcho hunching us
between these prickly rows. Fuck the canners,
their fans that purr & lick at blocks of ice—
on stools there's shade enough to scheme & fuss
for union pay. Out here we stock the shelves
of Baltimore & snarl I'll wreck your girl.
By dusk all knees are blood & puss & fucking brown.  

II. Laura, a Nine-Year-Old Berry Picker on Rock Creek, Been Working in the South Two Winters

How many cents your picking sweat can grouse
is counted by the boxes at your feet,
obscured by the throat-high vine one fist peels
& ripping clean of fruit will let spring back
against your chin. Miraculous your blouse
sail-white, your feline nose, your widow's peak
where wispy bangs like pale anemone
waver weightless. Of course we cannot see
the stains sprayed up from fruit stomped by your heels.  

III. A Four Year Old Helper in the Berry Field, Rock Creek, Whose Mother Says “He Helps a Little”

Now every time he wears his father's hat
I see again my husband's face, though dead,
stone drunk & cut in half on trolley tracks.
Such hate in me for rye & the half-rot
box-tray this whiner wastes a day to fill.
So much I loathe his phantom countenance
at night I shake & slap the sloth from him.
Goddamn the shilpit blood that makes him jerk
away from hands that quake their absolution work.

[Images courtesy of the Library of Congress.]

Adam Tavel received the 2010 Robert Frost Award, and his forthcoming collections are The Fawn Abyss (Salmon 2014) and Red Flag Up (Kattywompus 2013), a chapbook. His recent poems appear or will soon appear in Quarterly West, The Massachusetts Review, West Branch, Southern Indiana Review, Zone 3, Cream City Review, and The Cincinnati Review, among others. Tavel is an associate professor of English at Wor-Wic Community College on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.

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