TENTH ANNIVERSARY ISSUE: A Tribute
to Guest Editors
"Most days, my windows are open and from my desk, I hear voices
and snatches of stories. Will is teasing my dog, 'Can I take you home?'
The babysitter is calming her charge in her Nigerian lilt, and five
year old Gino is standing in his pajamas begging the Mexican handyman
to take him to drywall the house next door. 'I want to work.'
Words float in all day
I want to work
Gonna take you home
Take my hand
I’m not a poet, but poetry walks my street, walks this whole city.
We captured some of it in Beltway Poetry's first audio issue.
Sometimes I pull a microphone out and collect the sounds and stories
for the radio. Mostly I listen, best when things overlap and clash.
Or blend. The following two pieces below—came from listening."
From the Editor:
Katie Davis is an independent radio producer whose work I have long
admired, particularly her audio essays on communities and neighborhoods
in DC, created for Public Radio International and National Public
Radio. Her reporting is always warm and insightful, and illuminates
aspects of urban life that most people would otherwise never see,
the parts that have nothing to do with the Federal government and
monuments and K Street. She's a great friend to poets and poetry,
and has done a number of projects that incorporate poems into her
audio essays. I was thrilled when she agreed to work with me on Beltway's
a project I could never have taken on without her insight and expertise.
For this special issue, she combined audio tracks from several sources
both contemporary and historic, from the 1987 recording of May
Miller, to Reb
Livingston's poem, recorded specifically for the issue.
Katie helped me use the assets of online publishing more fully, and
I am so grateful to her. Although she is better known for her journalism
and creative nonfiction, she offers here two terrific poems.
TRUING THE WHEEL
Three boys lean over an upside down
Turn the pedal back, spin it,
Smooth the spoke, true the wheel.
Andre is wearing a faded tee shirt,
The one with a picture of his father.
Julio says, “I wish my father were dead.”
Andre looks down at his 12-year-old chest, at Rest in Peace Daddy.
“He died in prison,” says Andre…but the boys already
He unbends a spoke, sends the wheel spinning.
Curtis grabs the tire, stops it cold, “I’ve never seen my
dad. He might be dead.”
“Mine's in Arizona," Julio says, and spits into the street.
“Last time I saw him I was eight.”
Julio spins the wheel again, hard, and the chain pops off.
“If he walked up right now,” says Julio, “I’d
beat him with this chain.”
"Yeah," nods Curtis.
I watch three boys, truing one wheel and I see the father wheel.
They keep working because when a wheel is true, it is steady and balanced.
It can take them down Snake Hill, to Rock Creek Park, and the river.
It can take them away.
It was after eight when Jordan finished studying vocabulary. My dogs
and I walked him to the end of the street, watched him head up Ontario
Road, up to the steep steps of his building.
Biggie was there. Leaning on the pipe railing—all thug in his
“Son, come up here,” Biggie told Jordan.
Jordan looked around.
“Yeah you,” Biggie said.
Circumvent—to go around
Jordan and Biggie played together since their hair was in baby plaits
but his friend
Wears the mask now. Jordan, he’s gone all day at his private school
Biggie said, “I need some advice—on how to talk to my girl.”
“Why you asking me?” said Jordan.
“Cause you’re a pretty boy.”
Jordan says that’s when the sweat started, down his back.
Implacable—impossible to soothe
“Well,” Jordan said, “have you tried asking your girl
how her day is going?”
“That’s good son.” Biggie flipped out his cell, hit
the speed dial.
“Yeah, It's me. Um…How’s you’re day been going?”
Biggie held the cell phone up for Jordan to hear, hear how his girl
went on and on about her day.
The next week Jordan studied a new batch of words.
Mellifluous—flowing with sweetness or honey
Example—Her voice is mellifluous.
Jordan grabbed a 3 x 5 card, copied the word and slipped it in his back
“I’m gonna tell Biggie to use it with his girl. And…maybe
I’ll try it.”
Next day, I checked in. “How’d mellifluous go over?”
“Not good,” said Jordan, “The girl told me to quit
being fresh and she hung up on me.”
“Did it work for Biggie?”
“He wouldn’t even try it. And when I told him to quit being
so pugnacious,” he said,
“Jordan I’ll kick that fancy word so far up your butt, it’ll
come back out your mouth.”
Agility—a skill needed as you move between worlds.
Katie Davis is
a Washington DC writer and a 25-year veteran of public radio. “Neighborhood
Stories,” her ongoing series of audio essays, appears on NPR’s
“All Things Considered” and PRI’s “This American
Life.” Her essays are included in You Are Here: Personal Geographies
(Princeton Architectural Press, 2004) and the forthcoming Reality
Radio (University of North Carolina Press, 2010). Davis has received
fellowships from the McDowell Colony, The Virginia Center for Creative
Arts and the DC Commission on the Arts. She is the founder/director
of The Urban Rangers Youth Corps that gives kids “tools for life”
in Adams Morgan.
in Volume 11, Number 1, Winter 2010.
more by this author:
Intro to the Audio Issue, Vol. 9, No. 4, Fall 2008