poetry quarterly

10th anniversary

TENTH ANNIVERSARY ISSUE: A Tribute to Guest Editors

Katie Davis

 

Katie writes:
"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
overlapping
making poems.

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 Audio Issue, 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 mountain bike.
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 know this.
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.


Conjuror, 2009
alkyd on wood, 6" x 9"

more work by Kathy Keler



VOCAB QUIZ

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 puffy coat.

“Son, come up here,” Biggie told Jordan.
Jordan looked around.
“Yeah you,” Biggie said.

Circumvent—to go around
Placate—to soothe


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 now.

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
Omnipotent—unlimited power


“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?”

Loquacious—very talkative
Convivial—sociable


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 pocket.
“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.

 

Published in Volume 11, Number 1, Winter 2010.

Read more by this author:
Katie Davis: Intro to the Audio Issue, Vol. 9, No. 4, Fall 2008