Wake Up Call, by David Allen Sullivan

Five a.m. garbage run.
I balance my coffee mug
in fingerless gloves.

My compatriot
in jolting the neighborhood
from sleep jerks a thumb

when the mechanism
sticks and I descend to kick
the son-of-a-bitch

into extending
to grapple another wheeled bin
and bear it aloft.

It’s so beautiful
against the blue-black sky—“Wait!”
that’s my son inside,

still pajamaed, shut
in sleep, and tumbling in
with rinds and refuse.

I dive in after,
grab his disappearing ankle,
and yank him backwards,

shouting to the driver,
but he’s on auto-pilot,
blind, oblivious,

next load’s coming down,
drowning us in everything
others found useless.

Then I remember
I hate the taste of coffee—
that oily black slick

in the pot when I
was a kid—it meant Father
was working again,

couldn’t be bothered . . .
Now my son’s shouting for me
from his bed, wanting

what I once wanted—
hell—just once?—want still, to be
keenly listened to.

I shake off coffee’s
onrush. Through parted curtains
sun’s thermometer

rises in the gap.
I stumble towards where my son
has a dream to share.


About “Wake Up Call”: “This poem is from my book Black Ice, which will be published by Turning Point Press in 2015. The book is a series of poems dealing with my father’s dementia and death, and my relationship with my son Jules. This poem records a dream I had while writing these poems. Where I live in Santa Cruz, California, the recycling and garbage truck trundle past our house at ungodly early hours. Once, when he was young and both of us woke early, we raced out in our pajamas to take in the pre-dawn sight of the giant grappling arm descending to hook and hoist our bins and fling them over its back. This reminds me of the scene from Star Wars where their escape lands them in a refuse room and the walls begin to squeeze in. In my dream I was pulled out of by the bitter scent of the coffee and realized this couldn’t possibly be reality. When composing the (mostly) playful poem I came to understand how much I missed having my father around when I was young. He was often up in the attic (reached by a steep stair behind a low, narrow door—once he smacked his brow by not bending down enough and I heard my first volley of swears), working on his dissertation. He’d emerge to refill his coffee mug from the pot that was always on the stove, blackening and thickening throughout the day. I still dislike that smell so many relish, probably because it tells me my father’s away, working (or reading James Joyce’s Ulysses, as I later discovered). He wasn’t there to listen to his son’s thoughts or read his first feeble attempts at composing poems. And I wonder if my writing—even about my son—gets in the way of my being with him, and how every father struggles with competing claims.”

David Allen Sullivan’s first book, Strong-Armed Angels, was published by Hummingbird Press, and three of its poems were read by Garrison Keillor on The Writer’s Almanac. Every Seed of the Pomegranate, a multi-voiced manuscript about the war in Iraq, was published by Tebot Bach. A book of translation from the Arabic of Iraqi Adnan Al-Sayegh, Bombs Have Not Breakfasted Yet was published in 2013, and Black Ice, about his father’s dementia and death, is forthcoming from Turning Point. He teaches at Cabrillo College, where he edits the Porter Gulch Review with his students, and lives in Santa Cruz with his love, the historian Cherie Barkey, and their two children, Jules and Mina Barivan. He was awarded a Fulbright, and taught in China for one year (yesdasullivan.tumblr.com). His poems and books can be found at http://davidallensullivan.weebly.com/index.html

david allen sullivan in Madrid



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