Last night, a powerful thunderstorm rolled through Hillsborough and northern Pinellas counties. Shawna and I saw it building as we were pulling grass out of the fogfruit in the front yard. By the time we were having dinner, thunder was cracking and lightning was flashing and a warning banner ran across the bottom of the TV screen on the Weather Underground channel. On the table was a copy of Pinyon's 20th anniversary issue, with my poem, "Late Trail" in it. I reread the poem and then passed it to my wife, as it had been a good ten years since she'd read that poem which I wrote at the Hambidge Center in Georgia. That poem had been making the rounds for at least that long. We had been talking about our daughter, Carly, who is playing her cello at the Philadelphia International Music Festival for the next two weeks.
I lay out all of the random stuff in the above paragraph as a way of charting the genesis of the poem below. As usual, a poem comes from a variety of ingredients that seem to come together at one place and time: storm, poem, daughter, father's death in the background. Rereading "Late Trail" probably had me thinking in terms of myth and symbol so the storm was likely making some sort of connections beyond just the concerns listed in the TV warning. Discussion about my daughter had me thinking about her and stuff we'd done together, and that led to the memory of sitting on the tailgate of my pickup with her watching a storm. As I tried to remember the details of that day, I remembered that the truck was in the garage of the house we rented back then because the timing chain had eaten through the timing cover and coolant had forced its way into the cylinders. I'd called my dad and he'd agreed to come down to help me diagnose the problem, which we both figured was a cracked block or cylinder head. So Dad came down and we tore the engine down, figured out the problem and Dad left when it was clear I knew how to reassemble the engine. Ten years later, I would find that failed timing cover when I went through my father's stuff after he'd died. I'd put a clock in it and a note thanking him along with a picture of the project.
So, I had the connection of the memory of my dead father with the experience of watching the storm with Carly. As I drafted, I began to be aware of the connection of the father-child relationship in the poem. My dad had come down to help me understand something (the engine) as he always seemed to know something about engines even though we never really worked on cars when I was a kid. When Carly sat on the bed of the truck with the storm raging outside, she did so with a confidence that if her dad was doing it, it must be okay. Further, the experiences I had with my dad and with my daughter were both silent experiences. So here's the draft. Y'all hear? Draft, draft. My wife says it's good, but she's kind with my drafts and I know it will need work. But I think it has good bones. (It should be single-spaced but I'm having problems pasting it in that way).
Prospero as Mechanic
The pickup was in the garage and the tailgate was down.
Parts of the engine were arrayed in the bed:
intake manifold, cylinder head, timing chain.
The block was still where it belonged.
My father had driven down from Pensacola
to help me tear it down and diagnose the problem.
None of us knew then that he would be dead
in another ten years. We had found the cracked
timing cover that let coolant into the engine,
not unlike his bad heart valve that would do him in.
All I had to do was reassemble the engine
so he left again for Pensacola.
But here is what I remember:
a thunderstorm came in late one afternoon,
when it should have been sunset
and I sat with my own daughter, who was maybe three,
on the bed of the truck. She looked up at me
standing there at the kitchen door
while wind blew and thunder came after
lightning and the rain came down in heavy drops
just outside the open door to the garage.
She and I sat there, as if tempting something
dangerous and terrible, and I knew
that sitting next to me she feared neither
electricity nor thunder, as if my own spells
could keep the deadly world at bay.