Archival Features, Poems

David McAleavey: “Daylily season”

There’s both turbulence and calm in this piece, something like kneading bread dough. We’d been to see an emphatic production of King Lear with a gangster-era setting; the next day our clothes retained some whiff of the characters’ onstage smoking. (The full slap of Lear is itself sufficient to make you wake up dazed – more than a whiff of smoke remained!) The previous year my mother had died, aged 95, and a couple of months before I wrote this we’d buried her ashes alongside my father’s in an old family plot in Topeka. Lady Bird Johnson made it her cause to beautify Washington DC, in part by planting banks of daylilies along Rock Creek Parkway, and I often drive by a similar bank along I-66 in Arlington. Our house is built on a slope as well, the bank of a small stream, and from inside you can’t see some of the showy flowers in the yard below. I don’t have a shoe fetish, but sometimes a bold pair of high heels makes a direct impression, as an umbrella may, whether you need it or not. Many times, though, the indirectness of language parallels my own incomplete registration, the being-here and not-being here of awareness, which a poem may encode or trace and so offer itself as something residual, perhaps a treat. (David McAleavey)

Daylily season

A day of women with startling heels. Staged smoking lingers in the audience’s scarves. Staged tears, staged violence, O Altamont, who pushed me into the side of that subway car? The doctor fingered what he could. Inside this block of words is the DNA of a large block of desire irascible urgency. The tablet is blank that way because we have excised what was on it. Hemerocallis below the window where I cannot, you cannot see it, where it catches the eye of highway traffic, flirting as always. Mostly gentle. Scout leaders not always military. Insects not always nasty. The next car I get, if I am so lucky, will have many features but otherwise I can’t or oughtn’t describe it. Your body on the other hand, all fingered by caregivers, now ashes in the black ground of Kansas. I am a fullness present here glancingly, I will die with this fullness never fully present, I am the fullness whose smallness only partly makes my fullness disappear, I’m not sad, I’ve left a trace. It’s like the prize in the Crackerjacks box, a formula for a perfume, a shirt left hanging on the door handle which looks like a mongrel ghost with a limp. It doesn’t show wear. I used to have a friend, and never learned his name. The way DNA works, the meaning’s not inside, it’s the relations. The daze we wake under. There’s my umbrella.

David McAleavey’s most recent book is Huge Haiku (Chax Press, Tucson, 2005). His work has appeared in many journals, including Poetry, Ploughshares, and The Georgia Review. He has poems forthcoming in Denver Quarterly, Hubbub, Poet Lore, The Connecticut Review, and elsewhere. He teaches literature and creative writing at George Washington University in Washington, DC.

“Daylily Season” appeared first in the Fall & Winter 2010-2011 issue of Poetry Northwest (v5.n2).