Father Figure in First Gear
by Marcus Clayton
This hand on the stick shift—
I am not his son,
his fingers did not leave prints on my back
when I used to slice skies on a rusted
swing set, the chains whittling
This hand’s liver functioned enough
to sit still as I stalled in second gear,
carving tire tracks into a curb,
a line of cars impatiently curse
through car honks.
He resets the error. We drove
once around the park
like a bike stamped
with Power Rangers
circles a backyard:
one, two, three times,
dad’s eyes guided like a star,
burns out at four, retreats
to the scotch glass
to the TV away
from the fifth circle. Sixth.
Seven. 8 9 10 11 12 13
times he did not come back down.
At 16, it was my uncle’s breath
that had no fumes of brandy,
but burgers shared
after an afternoon movie—
calms my feet back onto the gas,
the gearshift to pedal
Another try around the park. Another
Seven. 8 9 10 11 12 13
—I am not his son, but I can push
one ton of metal around town
better than plastic Rangers
melting under a burned star
rusted over like snapped
The hand on the stick shift
is now mine. The power to go home
is now mine
after the session
as I walk into a home
stained with an absentee in bed:
burps bile and booze,
ghosts of cradles hung
over father’s head—
my back cleansed of his fingerprints.
PHOTO: “Changing gears” by redkey25, used by permission.
NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I took the prompt of learning to drive and tried to just write about the events in question. Rather than focus on the fear and anxiety of learning to drive when at an adolescent age (which was very present), I focused on the events surrounding learning to drive. From there, it transformed from a poem about a teenage milestone into a poem that used the event as a vessel to tackle bigger complications in my life at the time—father issues. It became more interesting for me to write and allowed some pent-up anger to be exorcised in the process. I handwrote the first draft to get as much as I could, then whittled it down into a typed draft in order to capture the most important moments that would convey the message I wanted.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Marcus Clayton grew up in South Gate, California, and holds an M.F.A. in Poetry from CSU Long Beach. He is an English instructor at Long Beach City College and Fullerton College, a managing editor for Indicia, and a recipient of the 2015 Beatrice and John Janosco Memorial Scholarship at CSU Long Beach. Some of his published work can be seen in Tahoma Literary Review, Los Angeles Review of Books, Bird’s Thumb, Canyon Voices Literary Magazine, and Lipstick Party Magazine among others.
AUTHOR’S PHOTO CAPTION: South Gate High School, early 2007. My senior year and the year I learned how to drive.