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——— contest winner ———

My Father Teaches Me How to Slip Away

Clarence Carter on

in the background

& there I sit, in my mother’s white Plymouth

Stolen in the open, under advisement of

This country’s laws & customs—I wait beneath

The Hollywood Video’s fanatic purple lights—

Their appliance buzz, sound of the spectral past,

Crackling in & out—I wait

For my mother to return, to go back

To the only home I’ve ever known—But inside

She’s been stunned-still at the sight of my father,

Possibly a mirage—I must’ve been

Asking for him, begging, but she had no address

No number to call—This moment, pure chance, a warp

In the spinning wax come back around—her mind skipping

As she stands before him with West Side Story in hand,

Then speaks, finally, to tell him I am out in the car—

& that night my father will tell his wife that I exist

& that night he’ll make it to my grandfather’s house

With this declaration on his lips, he’ll try even again

After being turned away for seven years

By a many-chambered gun

—& this time when he arrives, somehow

My mother knows he is there

Waiting in the outer space air of October—

This time a window is open & ash is falling

From his cigarette behind the barbecue pit

Where he crouches just as the nightmare curls

Back from my skin like smoke—

This time my grandfather is unaware,

Bound to his makeshift couch-bed by malignancy

When my mother pulls me through the cone of light cast

From his living room & toward my Black life—

When we steal past the safe

That holds the revolver wrapped in a tea towel,

My free fist turns like a wrench

In my eye—& then the heavy oak door

Whispered open by the sparkle of my father’s knuckles

& then my mother pushing me onto the night porch saying,

“Your father, this is your father”—& before me, a mirror—

My horse mind flickers—

When I step into him & look back at my mother, she

Is on the other side.


JOY PRIEST is the author of HORSEPOWER (Pitt Poetry Series, 2020), winner of the Donald Hall Prize for Poetry from AWP. Her poems have appeared or are upcoming in Gulf Coast, Mississippi Review, The Rumpus, VQR and Best New Poets 2014, 2016, and 2019, among others. Priest has received support from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, the Frost Place, the Hurston/Wright Foundation, and the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, where she is currently a 2019-2020 Fellow in Poetry.


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