Hand on Gear Stick
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
            metal overhead.

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
                      three revolutions
                      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
            fourteen, fifteen
                      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
                                    manual sedan.

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
            swingset chains.

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.


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.