Seeing My Son Off to War

John Jeffire

You’re no writer, he tells me
the night before, well-rationed
with tequila and draft beer and
sandbox testosterone, and I say
nothing because I am as drunk
as he is and I don’t want to argue
and I have no counter-attack
even if I did.  This morning, his
last leave before deployment ends.
I doublepark in the dark outside
domestic departures, he pulls
his bag from the back seat,
a walled city between us.
Eyes meet and cover, dumb
hands pinned in pockets until
there is nothing left to see or
say or pretend we must say.
We shake hands.  When I slap
his shoulder in male ritual,
I hear the nut-quake detonation,
see the lens of a correspondent’s
camera flecked with blood,
smell the rubberized vinyl
guaranteed not to leak.
I want to warn young Telemachus
of Circe’s bed, reveal the trick
to stringing the heirloom bow, 
tell him to keep heads up for
a one-eyed, blind giant prick with
a bone to pick staggering the Tigris, 
but last night Athena misplaced the moon
the more we reloaded our cups,
the bow snapped like a winter twig
and tossed at the feet of some fool
sewing his fields with salt.
The time for words is finished.
At the curb, he nods, we regroup, he
turns his back one last time to face
wars, wars, wars—those fought, 
those to be waged, father and son
mapping the prophesied waters.


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John Jeffire was born in Detroit.  In 2005, his novel Motown Burning was named Grand Prize Winner in the Mount Arrowsmith Novel Competition and in 2007 it won a Gold Medal for Regional Fiction in the Independent Publishing Awards.  Speaking of Motown Burning, former chair of the Pulitzer Jury Philip F. O'Connor said, “It works. I don't often say that, but it has a drive and integrity that gives it credible life....I find a novel with heart.” In 2009, Andra Milacca included Motown Burning in her list of “Six Savory Novels Set in Detroit” along with works by Elmore Leonard, Joyce Carol Oates, and Jeffrey Eugenides.  His first book of poetry, Stone + Fist + Brick + Bone, was nominated for a Michigan Notable Book Award in 2009.  Former U.S. Poet Laureate Philip Levine called the book “a terrific one for our city.”  His most recent book, Shoveling Snow in a Snowstorm, a poetry chapbook, was published by the Finishing Line Press in 2016.  For more on the author and his work, visit writeondetroit.com.

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