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Jeremiah Driver


In each issue, the editors choose a writer they would like to bring
to the readers' attention.

In this issue, Jeremiah Driver is highlighted.

"My cousin found in his hands..." writes Jeremiah Driver and we enter the territory of family. Driver's poems remind us where we come from always tags along. Every now and then it whispers in our ear: "Years race past your ears until you find / in a corral the spirit of your grandfather shaking..." The names of towns, church, scrapping a living from hardscrabble land where stories are not private, these are the concerns in Driver's work. Enter the center of this country. Go where these poems want to take you.

Where I Come From Nothing Is as Democratic as Beer

Cousin Darrell at the Mother's Day Party

A Poem for Sister

From My Parked Car on Market Street in Alton, IL

I Thought

David Derking's Absent Father Was a Commercial Fisherman

Icarus of Dehli, Illinois

Conditional Brethen

A Man Learns To Apologize

Canned Heat as an Ode


(If I'm Crazy) This Is How It Happened / Christmas Fight / A Truth about Violence

A Man Who Walks Among Wasps

Table Lulling

Ars Poetica

Again the Call Finds You

Where I Come from Nothing is as Democratic as Beer

            – for George “Big Bread” Sawaya

                              Circus-Tits tended bar at The Cabin.
If you gave her ten dollars she would open a two-dollar beer

and proudly pull with both hands at the top of her bra and the cut
of her blouse until two mounds of flesh, big enough for any circus, spilled
onto the bar.

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Cousin Darrel at the Mother’s Day Party

The quiet cough of corn whiskey kneaded
          the sweetness of brown sugar
in baked beans and barbecued pork.
     A banjo rang under the lyrics of a murder ballad.

My cousin found in his hands
the life of a fluttering hambone-madness
whose intricate chatter echoed and I knew myself
better than the chair in which I sat.

Oh, yes, Sir, my name is Lee
     I murdered little Sadie in the first degree
First degree and second degree

          Ya got any papers won’t ya read to me

An empty mason jar stung the strings
          of his lap-laid guitar
which bawled country blues
          as wild as rain falling
on a tin roof.

                          God bless the world
in which we burn.

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Poem for Sister

On the day that I die I’ll sit on a hotel bed
in Waynesville, MO. You’ll remind me how
to smile. I will forget every name of every
horse I’ve ever loved and be the boy pulling
soda tabs, bed frames, and canoes: an oriel.

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From My Parked Car on Market Street in Alton, IL

Abraham’s baroque arms in bronze made me ask
what’s it mean to think? What might my black eye
mean to a girl: funny, frail, & thin as a rail who
chain-smokes & loves pills? The father of her
third had broken her nose while his child curled
inside her which kept me awake & wanting, for
the first time in years, honest violence. How is it
that she could leave me for him who’d burn her
face on carpet and make her eat cat shit? Perhaps
I’ll never know, but not the way I didn’t as I waited
for her to walk down the stairs from her room
in the Oasis Women’s Shelter to meet me at my car
for our first date, the uncomfortable night when I
heard how 14 Xanax stifles speech. Douglas’
finger is above his forever open mouth, pointing.

* The Lincoln – Douglas Debate Statues referenced in the poem are by Jerry McKenna and are located in Lincoln – Douglas Square in Alton, IL.

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I Thought

resting in my hands
was a woven rope
tethered to a haltered horse
my grandfather named Spirit,
a gift John and I shared;
but we were too young
to understand. Mesmerized
by her breath, I stood alive
in the long black hairs on her nose
as Grandpa talked
of his father
who people traveled miles
to see,
before cars were common,
because their animals were sick.
Grandpa (just a boy)
stood off to the side
as they handed
an emaciated mule’s lead
to his father who lifted
loosely cupped lips,
giving way
to a large pocket of puss
on the mule’s gums.
He perked up when he saw the cob
in Dad’s hand,
but not the blade that pierced it.
Moments later,
the slack rope whirled at the world.

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David Derking’s Absent Father Was a Commercial Fisherman

The Congregation was a body. Some rolled,
the Holy Ghost twisting their tongues.

When I was a kid I prayed with Sue,
the Sunday school teacher,         for his

repentance     even his return     when I wasn’t too ashamed.

He was working / drinking in Indiana,
or just down the road.

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Icarus of Dehli, Illinois

He was famous for jumping
off corn silos.
I guess he liked the feeling of falling.
From the bedroom I saw kitchen lights
and heard their voices.

Bill knocked
on my grandparent’s door
so late that I thought someone had died.

He had told me his secret
of landing—something
to do with rolling.
Bill was drunk

and his elbow jetted his hand
(and the wadded t-shirt wrapped around it)
at an angle.

Son-of-a-bitch pulled a knife.
Grandpa pointed to the bathroom
after he said ya dumb-ass.

It was cooler than the kung fu movies
(VHS tapes in hard, dark cases)
that Grandma let us rent from Movie Mart.
I climbed over John for a good look.

Under the faucet Grandpa
stretched open Bill’s wound.
The sleek, deep cut curved
outward towards his thumb,

but had missed the tendons.
Bill winced when the peroxide hit.
I watched his face as he tried to fix it—
his eyes, a burning sky.

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Conditional Brethen

If you knew how even trees were quieter         in the cold
like the silent life of a woman        listening    to the misery
of other’s complaints.

If you could dress for winter         and leave folding-room
for your arms.

Had you felt the sting of summer as grime ate into the ears
on the back of your neck         under the sun         the weight
a rain could lift         the relief of 5:00 o’clock.

If you’d endured the idle change of seasons         finding love
for each. If you ached
through the Cole         David Allen of your life. If questions
cost too much and anything could be alright         I’d
drink with you         laugh         and call you brother.

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A Man Learns To Apologize

The quiet hours we spent in your garage
among half-mounted deer heads and hides
curing in salt, next to the fleshing machine
cleaned me like a lick. Your glasses hung
half way down your nose, drawn to the edge
like the worn cuffs of the maroon, collared shirt
that you always worked in. Your camouflage hat
was dusted as white as your calloused
fingers which found, in clay, the ligaments
and veins that once moved a deer.

In Kansas, an appaloosa you named Windsong
stepped on your foot—slut!
From the porch Aunt Brenda gasped,
calling your name Alex Wayne in disbelief.

                                                      Sorry Love.

At Alicia’s wedding reception I stood watching
the contradiction of your nice clothes.
They asked you to carry bags of ice, through a light rain
from a delivery truck, and I offered to help.

When the ice was packed in the cabinet-coolers, under the bar,
you wandered through silence (they couldn’t hear)
that stopped the clatter. Just outside the door we stood
together, our eyes fixed on the ­­­blossoming, pink sky—quietly       
sharing a love for summer rain.

The helicopter you jumped out of in South America
has landed and I will never see that beach. The rain.

                                                      I am sorry.
— for Great Uncle Alex

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Canned Heat as an Ode

            Because shadows run from themselves
& a man who runs through the woods in his underwear
firing a pistol
                              is a man who wants peace,
I’m goin up the country /on the road again & remembering
                  your gorilla-build – the straight ankle stretch

of your dome-booted (tippy) toes
            on the gas pedal
of your blue, single cab, S-10 dually, flatbed with wooden racks and white pin stripes.

Your beard & hair blew & knocked in the open
                                    as you drove John and me to fishing holes
or hayfields where we stretched our love for the ridiculous

knowing nothing real
                        of D.U.I.’s or divorces:
Donna, the 2nd crazy who broke

                        into your trailer and fucked up your records
she don’t lie, she don’t lie, she don’t lie—

and left everything but the couch
                                    in your front yard full of chicory and yarrow
you once paid John 80 bucks to cut

                  with a weed whacker.
You said no strings could secure you
            and gave it all to the refuse.

      —for Uncle Charlie

* The title borrows from the name of the band Canned Heat. The italicized words are song lyrics:
Canned Heat. Goin Up the Country and On the Road Again; Clapton, Eric. Cocaine; Cream. White Room

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A house dog dragged beneath him
the weight of an unnatural leg

after Darrel backed over him
with his pickup. . . .  paper mashie,

a laced boot, and a pint of whiskey,
Grandpa said into the phone.

They shook hands, the dog resting
its head on one of Darrel’s boots.

He fished inside a plastic Wal-Mart bag,
Grandpa grabbing for laces,

as Darrel asked how long we wait
o set the leg after the dog drinks the whiskey

and gets muzzled? Grandpa huffed,
don’t give him more than a cap full.

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(If I’m Crazy) This Is How It Happened / Christmas Fight / A Truth about Violence

        1.      I came home (for the first time) from the Army.
        2.      Dad got drunk and made Mom cry.
        3.      I ignored my mother's siren song for peace.
        4.      I did my best to maim him.
        5.      I hurt my sister, though it wasn't my hand.
        6.      I disappointed Grandpa, who expressed it without words.
        7.      I swore non-violence.
        8.      I was consumed by violence.
        9.      Christmas lights.

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A Man Who Walks Among Wasps

The jays, again, are pecking
                              at poke berries.

Robins are eating the tops of apples
until they hang like teardrops

from limbs. For weeks we smelt
what we couldn’t find.

The question of your dog
became an upright rib,

loose hair. Grayish, green skin
became my question of telling.

You hosed what you didn’t want to burn
in an equation of kerosene.

I’d seen you hold your wife under a sycamore—
still the one—

after all those years.
She watched you

gain weight
as the chemo shrank your tumor.

A fond nibbling in your orchard
unearthed the beauty in it all.

Then a hole in your throat /
your hair / your beard

gone. You aged,
minutes fumbling in a gown.

The cancer collapsed
your lung, choked your heart.

In your pool room the old dog didn’t
blink when it pissed on your floor.

      — for Uncle Chet

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Table Lulling

Braids of rain snaked through the grass
     as the ambulance sped to Saint Anthony’s.

He fell

after an evening meal.

 In a small room with brown carpet,
cramped together, we waited
to hear what my grandfather would overcome.

The doctor was an honest man.

          Mom and Grandma’s sobs hung in the air
like forked lightning.

If anyone would like to say goodbye . . .

Alone, I followed the doctor’s white coat into a room with walls
covered with green and white tiles where I spent time
with the weight of a body I’d never heard.

                                          His head had rocked back,
bent his throat upward and opened his mouth.
His bottom jaw slacked leftward.

Had the whisper of dust that lends itself to flight
fallen and stuck – dust-wing – to tongue or cheek?

Can’t say. I didn’t look
into the hollowed darkness of his lulling mouth.
Though, I remembered the mail:

     how he casually dragged envelopes, everyday,
across my unpostured face, after he’d reached across the truck’s passenger seat.
I asked, after a week,         

are you doing that on purpose?
“Doin’ what?”

          He used to grab my neck with cupped fingers,
thumb at my ear —
the heel of his stout hand  playfully bumping my jaw

as he smiled an odd dare
before he broke
and pulled me into the harbor of his arms.

In the titled room I held his hand in mine.
Quiet with calluses,
not cold—pliable.

     His face was like mine,
except for the hairline.
The white beard he always scratched

and said felt rough was soft to my touch.
I closed like a fist and opened like a lily.
Tears burned on my cheeks

          with the joy I’d known.
A moment/ a jagged song
he wouldn’t have wanted me to fear.

The fire of his laughter filled the room.
I pushed the gray handle
on the paper towel dispenser

    next to the sink, tore the brown, paper towel,
and carried what I could in my pocket.

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Ars Poetica

Whatever went into the trash cans in the kitchen
and bathroom at the east end of the trailer

went into the burning barrel next to the driveway
in front of the giant pines where I sat

on a pleasant bed of brown needles playing God
with grasshoppers and guessing

at the brown juice they spat on my giant finger,
eager to eat the entirety of me who was always

comfortable in camo pants. I was seven or eight
when Mom first let me start fires alone.

I pulled the bags from the cans and followed
her through a cheap screen door,

proud to have a job and eager for the flame
/ danger. It wasn’t the strike of the match

or solitude, but watching the fire grow,
guessing which direction the wind would carry it

as I ripped open the garbage bags, searching
for something fibrous that preferred

the flame. I loved feeding it
until it was hot enough for whatever:

old Christmas cards, banana peels, empty cans
of Spaghetti O’s, shit paper or maxi pads.

She only let me burn during the day, but I liked to wait
until dusk when it was dark enough for me to see

the orange glow swallowing the kindling—
not just smoke slowly rolling out of the barrel

up into nothing. Sometimes while I waited,
I admired the patchwork of rust, soot, and ash

from yesterday’s inferno. A neighbor’s peacock,
one evening, flew into a tree behind our trailer.

His young daughter was at his side as the neighbor called
into the branches. Everyone at school loved her.

Anyone could see her beauty
and there she was, within ear shot

of any pretty thing I could think to say. Her father
talked to my mother and didn’t seem to notice

the way I looked at her. Down came the peacock
with a pulsating sound and fanned its tail

strutting between us all as its long iridescent
feathers pumped down the drive-way

where I rode my bike through the exotic
smell of burnt plastic.

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Again the Call Finds You

Heaven is a barn full of cats and cobwebs
where the smell of molasses soaked oats
hangs in the air like the coarse hair of a horse
who listens; so engrossed she cannot judge

the smallness of your plight as you talk
yourself straight. You can follow her
benevolence like a trail that leads over
civil hills, until you find yourself

rolling like smoke through last fall’s leaves
in a wooded pasture where you rise and follow
the tail of a mare whose heavy head swings

in agreement with her shifting shoulders and hips,
her hooves spinning the ground under you
as she chases the first taste of her mother’s milk,
so sweet and thick on her tongue, leading you

over worn, wet rocks under running water, up a slick
embankment, through a flat, breaking may apples
at the stem. Years race past your ears until you find
in a corral the spirit of your grandfather shaking

a rusted coffee can half full of grain; the rattle lifting
into the air with his old call of Kay-YULP
through weathered, plank fence rails, into sky, mud,
grass, and through trees to a place he couldn’t see.

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Jeremiah Driver earned an MFA in Writing at Sarah Lawrence College, won the Thomas Lux Award, has been a horse trainer, a service member in the United States Army, worked construction in Manhattan, and taught literacy/ writing in Queens and the Bronx. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in TerminusCatch and Release (Columbia Journal), FLAPPERHOUSEPrairie Gold: An Anthology of the American Heartland, and Piecrust.

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