November 13, 2017

Todd Davis

CRACKS

A pickup slips over the ice, rear tires spinning, turning 
a circle, then another, a series of donuts in a mechanical dance 
that causes the three boys to swear and laugh, spilling beer 
onto their laps and the seats that already stink of cigarettes 
and sweat. Their dads and uncles sit in hastily erected shacks, 
hovels spread across the lake, humped over like the dirt 
at the entrance to gopher dens. Men fish in the half-light 
of heaters, drinking schnapps and whiskey, readying themselves 
for the rod to bow, hovering over an augured hole 
as if it were a nest in need of guarding. When at last 
the line jerks down into the dream of a northern pike, 
they fumble with the reel, hearts racing ahead of an ending 
they imagine will be told at the bar on a Saturday in June, 
glasses of beer sweating, hands spread wide in a lie 
to suggest the size of that fish whose head sprang 
from the slush-filled abyss, only to escape their grip 
into the black depths of late December. Air snakes 
through the truck’s cab, windows rolled down 
so these bored boys can scream at the stars 
salted across the sky. Most of the men have gone 
to eat supper, to watch the Lions lose one more game 
on TV. The smell of propane lingers, stirred with the beer 
the boys burp as they smoke cigars and cough. 
They’ve parked the truck at Ralph’s shanty, 
and the older brother spits into a plastic jug, snuff 
stuffed under his lower lip, as he tells stories 
about a buck he killed in October and a girl he dated 
from the next town over with a mouth as soft as velvet. 
There are always cracks in the ice, but trying to decide 
which seam is harmless and which leads to the bottom 
is a matter of luck. They’ve grown accustomed to the lake’s 
groaning, having heard its teeth chatter since they were children: 
sun melting into the horizon, everything refreezing 
in a slick swatch of darkness. Toward the south end 
of the lake, springs thin the ice, but the boys believe 
the cold insures their passage. On the way back 
a wheel breaks through, front end dipping, the entire truck 
tipping, then plunging forward like a duck, tail feathers 
pointed at the moon. Every year some drown, 
and even more trucks sink. But tonight, 
with the windows open, each boy places a foot 
on the seat and leaps to safety, rolling onto their sides, 
praying the ice-shelf will hold. The sound of the truck 
being sucked beneath the surface is smothered 
by their happy hollering. None of them thinking 
about the cost when Szymanski’s Towing 
sends a diver down with a cable and hook, 
or how their moms will cry as their dads berate 
such stupidity, which of course is inherited. 
For now they can only hoot at their own good fortune. 
The cold stars warmer with their escape, sparkling 
like the fake diamonds they give their girlfriends
on their six-month anniversary, and the moon 
offering just enough light to help them to shore 
and to the county road they’ll walk 
all the way back to town.

from Rattle #57, Summer 2017
Tribute to Rust Belt Poets

[download audio]

__________

Todd Davis: “I was born, raised, and have lived in the Rust Belt for 52 years. The first eighteen years of my life were spent in the factory town of Elkhart, Indiana, playing basketball and football and dreaming about the deep forests in upstate New York where I’d visited to backpack with my father and uncle, places that seemed otherworldly, so green and with water we drank directly from streams flowing out of the sides of mountains. After that, I lived in northern Illinois for seven years, then another six years in Goshen, Indiana, and for the past fourteen years I’ve lived in Pennsylvania, ten miles north of the dying railroad town of Altoona. Because of these places, notions of decay and injury can be found in my poems, and poets like Jim Daniels and Jan Beatty have been important in showing me ways to write about what matters here. The small village of Tipton where my house sits is near 41,000 acres of game lands. I hunt and fish in what seems to be an imitation of those first forests I encountered in upstate New York, planning my escape into their creases. But even in the most remote places in these 41,000 acres I can’t escape the legacy of the Rust Belt: acid mine drainage from deep tunnel mining and strip mining for coal creates ‘kill zones’ in the forest and makes some of the streams sterile. I suppose I hope that my poems offer a glimpse of the good in these places while not flinching at the harm we’ve done to the land and to each other.” (website)

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