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Poetry by Terri Linn Davis
My Father’s Retirement Plan is to Die
My father’s retirement plan is to die.
His carpenter’s hands are blocks
of iron. They hurt him around the joints
when it rains. I ask him what
happens when your body gives
out? He is near 60, and says Shit,
hell if I know, as if he has decades more of
framing houses; so like when he was 30,
he keeps his hair long past his
shoulders, (because ladies call him Fabio)
listens to classic rock on his boom-box,
pumps iron after work in the unfinished
basement of the house he rents, hates
cardio, says I had enough runnin’ in the
Army. I ain’t walkin’ nowhere I don’t have to.
He keeps all his money in envelopes, pays
cash for motorcycles, calls me
knucklehead, gives me $200 on my
birthday. Power saws carved away
his hearing, and now he yells I can’t hear
a goddamn thing you say ‘cause you’re
always mumblin.’ I’ve never seen him
cry, I did hear his voice break one time
over the phone 900 miles away after my
mom attempted suicide. All his shirts are
tank tops, he cuts off the sleeves to make
bandannas. In the summer he turns a dark red,
jagged moles splinter endless sun-burnt
skin. One mole next to his nose is cancer,
he tells me maybe he’ll get insurance and
get it removed next November, and shows
me the Ebay listing of the Mustang GT he bid on.
He picks at his scabbed mole,
and says She real purty, ain’t she?
How to Disown Your Grandma:
When your grandmother calls on birthdays and holidays,
and your mother raises her eyebrows while she gestures
and holds the phone out to you, you can keep the call
short. When your grandmother calls you her “sweet angel,”
you may roll your eyes, and remember instead your
empty toy box, how she sold your toys when you and
your sister went to visit your dad. Picture the white, stuffed
dragon with the iridescent pink wings you had since birth
in someone else’s hands. When your mother tells you
that you should “say something” to your grandmother
who is in the hospital, sick with an obstructed bowel,
you may choose to ignore her. Try instead to think of how
she ventured to sell you and your sister to interested parties—
just like your toys—the first time your mother went to jail.
When she sends you a beautiful hand-knit blanket in the
mail for the birth of your second child, you can decide
to throw it away. When you feel guilty, think of how
you see your grandmother mirrored in your own mother.
From now on you might refer to her as Nancy, or “your mom”
to your mother. Eventually you may decide to not name her at all.
Cho Ki-Sook in Windsong
For those who go looking...
My husband Adam said he thought about
getting his birth mother’s name tattooed
on his forearm. Cho Ki-Sook in Windsong font.
One Christmas, his white mom
told me she thought his birth mother
might have been a
whore. She cried after
she said that.
He wrote a letter to the South Korean orphanage
to find his birth mother when he was 18, but
never followed through. At 34 he sent another
email when I was two months pregnant.
Adam says he forgets that he looks Asian.
The South Korean social worker
emailed him back, and said she’d be happy
to look into it.
At his job people ask Adam where he’s
from. He says Pennsylvania. “No
Where is your family from originally?”
The answer is Pennsylvania, but he knows
what they want. He tells them he was
born outside of Seoul.
His birth name is Cho Jae-in.
He told his sister he was thinking
about naming our son, Jaein.
He says that name is the only thing
of his birth mother he has left.
She said, “Giving him that name
doesn’t make it more real. That’s your
name.” Adam told me she didn’t get it.
He says he doesn’t want a relationship
with his birth mother,
that he just wants to let her know
he’s ok, and he is grateful. Still he buys Korean
language books and CDs.
When we went to the 3D
ultrasound boutique, we saw the baby
had Adam’s nose and the technician
said “looks like he’s got a round face
just like his daddy!”
His mom told me when Adam was a baby,
a woman thought he had
Down syndrome because of his
The social worker wrote back:
“Dear Mr. Burkland,
Unfortunately, we could not locate your birth
mother. We have record notes that states she
could not name the father due to the pregnancy
being caused by rape. Your birth mother said
she had never seen him before, but he had
broad shoulders and a round face...”
I convinced him to go to a Korean
cooking class at the library. When a white
man asked Adam if he was
Korean, he said “No,
Adam says he wishes he could murder him.
He does not call him “birth father.”
He asked the social worker if
his birth mother was the one that named him.
She wrote back “No. the social worker names
The Persistence of Disbelief
when the subject of immortality comes up, I say
I’m not interested, because I still don’t believe
in my own death. as the protagonist, I survive
the denouement. you die, and I’m so sorry to hear it.
I can’t imagine. I suppose neither can you, but,
yes, you die. life has always been my story. I promised
my son once that I would live past 100; that I’d be
so old, we’d both be ready for me to go. when I
imagine it, I see an ancient, gnarled woman I don’t
recognize. her dying looks like sleeping. when she dies,
I’m still here.
It is a grey and chilly
Wisconsin morning in first grade.
The town I live in now is small, it
has one gas station where my grandmother
gets our dinner. Last night it snowed;
my sneakers are wet. It is quiet, and the
children come in the classroom slowly.
The brown slush from their snow boots
create small mountain ranges on the floor tiles
I sit there alone.
I have been new for almost a month this time.
The teacher gives us coloring sheets
in the morning. I don’t have colors of my
own, so she gave me leftovers I can keep.
I want color. I open the top of my
wooden desk, and find in there—lying
among pencil shavings and filthy, broken
crayons—a snake’s skin-shedding.
This remnant and I are out of place;
I reach out to touch it and a part of the papery,
opaque was-skin crumbles. I feel the eyes
of the other children; they are like steel wool
pads on raw skin. Through a curtain of unkempt,
hair, I look over at the boy that sits across the aisle,
he flicks his tongue out at me. The children let out
a cacophony of snickers. The desk makes no sound
as I close it.
I train my unfocused eyes
on the big empty spaces of my uncolored worksheet.
I pretend the snake skin isn’t there just as I pretend
I am not either.
childbirth leaves an open wound inside the body:
for nine months kin lie in wait crouching on their haunches,
as time grows closer you hear their hoot-laugh calls, see their
jaws gather foam, licking slather. when Mothers hemorrhage
newborns, the clots incite a frenzy like hyenas feasting on a carcass.
Terri Linn Davis is an MFA student at Southern Connecticut State University. She is the recipient of the Jack and Annie Smith Poets and Painters Award (2018). Her poems appear in Folio, Ghost City Review and Persephone's Daughters Literary Magazine. She lives in Milford, Connecticut with her partner, Adam, and their two sons. You can find her on twitter @TerriLinnDavis or on her website terrilinndavis.com.
Be sure to check out this exclusive interview with Terri on the Orson’s Publishing blog.