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Academy of American Poets Summer Series. Recorded at the New York Public Library, July 15, 2014.

About this poet

Geffrey Davis is the author of Night Angler, winner of the 2018 James Laughlin Award and forthcoming from BOA Editions in 2019, and Revising the Storm (BOA Editions, 2014), which received the 2013 A. Poulin, Jr. Poetry Prize. His other honors include the Anne Halley Poetry Prize, the Dogwood Prize in Poetry, the Leonard Steinberg Memorial/Academy of American Poets Prize, and the Wabash Prize for Poetry, as well as fellowships from Cave Canem, the National Endowment for the Arts, and Penn State's Institute for the Arts and Humanities. He teaches at the University of Arkansas and The Rainier Writing Workshop and lives in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

What We Set in Motion


Months out from my bout, I return home
after training deltoids and biceps to push

past the letdown of exertion—to never
stop throwing punches. Our baby boy

bides time in L’s belly, two weeks late,
and she smiles, names me her gentle boxer

as I shadow my way down the hall
toward the shower. The next day,

after zero centimeters worth of progress,
she sends me back to the gym to spar,

to save my mind from running
the unnecessary laps. I spend round after

round risking and taking damage,
in search of that perfect left hook

to the body, that soft midsection crunch.
I land a few home and feel the accuracy

moving deeper than mechanics,
burying itself in the blue memory

below. Inside the ring I sweat out everything
but bob and weave, but balance and breath, bearing

each combination’s bad intent, until brutality
blossoms into something almost beautiful.


And then it’s time—as in the dark, we’re in it:
maternity wing of the hospital, the lengthening
hours of our son’s slow arrival. As in the dark,
a contraction’s wave ends, the wash of pain receding,
and L leans back into the rocking chair, back
into the chasm of exhaustion, eyelids
locking her exit from the room. I squat before her
and wait, her body buoyed in the open sea of labor,
as in the dark. My gaze fixes on the map
of monitors, scanning that pixilated horizon
for the next contraction’s approach. When it does,
as in the dark, her eyes flare inside the room
once more, hands raising to clasp
behind my neck, as in the dark. I hear the moan
of her spirit bearing this being into light, and I lift
her loaded weight, place pressure
on her hips and say, give me everything,
darling, as in the dark. There is no word for the infinite
divide between my desire and my inability to rock
this boy’s burden from her, to rock her from the tides
of hurt he’s riding in on—this is all her. As from the dark,
as from the sea, another wave builds inside her,
and I send whispers across water, coaching her deeper
into the swallow of its force, calling it what we want,
calling it love or joy or peace, as in the dark, barely trusting
each moment that moves her further from this shore,
where I wait for her, to plant our son into these arms.


When they tell us no more fluids. When they tell us time
has scorched the well of his arrival. When urgency cuts through

each gowned voice in the delivery room, the ghost in L’s face
says let them, and so we let them mine him by fire—with and through fire.

Restraints. No breath. Regional anesthesia. No breath. Nerve block.
Incision. Hemorrhage. And then he adds the sharp thunder of his cry

to the elements. They place him at the altar of her chest. With one hand
free to touch the curl and moisture of his hair, smoke clears from her smile.


In the nursery, this new kind of quiet
stretches itself inside the plastic, hospital-issued bassinet,

and I stare at my feet—
a sudden fear over the distance down

to them, over having no prayer for looking
into our son’s face, years from now, finding

it thinner, the flesh pulled tighter
around the cathedral of his skull,

the mind behind his eyes more
like ours, more tacked to the brittleness

of yesterday, days stacking into months,
memories like seeds spilled across another year.

What’s the ritual for forgiving ourselves
the mortal promise we set in motion,

pressed between the floral sheets,  
planting his life’s fabric into death’s seam?

From Revising the Storm (BOA Editions, 2014) by Geffrey Davis. Copyright © 2014 by Geffrey Davis. Used with permission of the author.

From Revising the Storm (BOA Editions, 2014) by Geffrey Davis. Copyright © 2014 by Geffrey Davis. Used with permission of the author.

Geffrey Davis

Geffrey Davis

Geffrey Davis is the author of Night Angler, winner of the 2018 James Laughlin Award and forthcoming from BOA Editions in 2019. He lives in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

by this poet


In Seattle, in 1982, my mother beholds this man
boarding the bus, the one she’s already

turning into my father. His style (if you can
call it that): disarming disregard—a loud

Hawaiian-print shirt and knee-high tube socks
that reach up the deep tone of his legs,

toward the dizzying


Dear Boy: It is true: You took two tries
to get here—for your mother and me
to calyx together a body bold
enough to carry the grace of you. Amen.
So forgive us if we still bow inside
the garden of your miscarried becoming—:

grant us the ruined grounds of the first prayer


During the last 50 miles back from haul & some
months past my 15th birthday, my father fishes
a stuffed polar bear from a Salvation Army
gift-bin, labeled Boys: 6-10. I can almost see him
approach the decision: cold, a little hungry, not enough

money in his pocket for coffee.