I’m Major Jackson and this is The Slowdown.
These days, whenever I sit down to dinner with my kids or am fortunate to catch them in their busy lives, I wistfully recall the pleasures of becoming a father…and the shock of it. Not that Langston was an abstract idea for nine months, but when your child, pretty much a biological speculation grown into a creature, is placed in your arms for the first time screaming itself into the world, an amazing wave of obligation and accountability lands full force into your heart. No experience up till that moment suffices to prepare you. When my friends arrived home with their adopted daughters, I read that same jolt of recognition on their faces.
One evening, baby Langston’s mother decided to join a girls’ night with friends. I took on all the duties: I warmed milk, stuck him in my arms, and fed him; I flipped him on my shoulder and burped him; after a few minutes of quiet, I smelled his poop; I changed him, carefully, undoing his diaper and wiping clean his bottom. Just when I felt both of us falling into a deep sleep, he began to cry.
What flowed from his lungs was piercing. Alone, his screams seemed amplified. I didn’t know what artists were in the CD tray, but I hit play on our music system.
The opening vamps of John Coltrane’s classic “A Love Supreme” issued from the speakers. This did not stop Langston from crying; he seemed to wail even louder over Coltrane's horn. I remember this moment because it marked my vocal commitment to him as a father. I turned down the volume and bounced him up and down. Over Jimmy Garrison's bass licks, I made promises to him and myself: I will always be here for you. I will love you forever and protect you. I will model goodness in my heart. I will teach you to love and cherish the world. When I laid him down to check his diaper, again, I was still promising to be the best dad; then, when I pulled back its sticker, as if to wake me out of my posing and guarantees, a stream of yellow liquid shot up, as if to say, get to it. I laughed and got to it.
Today’s poem honors the gorgeous and astonishing presence of parenting and our awesome responsibility of care.
by Geffrey Davis
My arms become two battered branches the first time I reach toward the not yet rankled tenderness of my son’s backside, bound to the pre-gnaw of a soiled diaper. L lies in our living room, postpartum and pitched inside the warm depth of her own recovery, body busy with soothing the glory of its new stitching. How many darknesses can turn a desire? How many good breaths to cast one wound from the sky? I open as if breaking until a sudden and enthusiastic and sunshiny geyser of urine from my son’s penis startles me into the inane proverb of a laughter you never see coming. My hands still shake as I cinch the boy back into the thin cleanliness of another waiting. And, yes, eventually I weep—: but only after, and only outside, kneeling in the garden, well beyond the indivisible light of his future. Amen.
“Survivor” by Geffrey Davis from NIGHT ANGLER © 2019 Geffrey Davis. Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, LLC on behalf of BOA Editions.