Start Reading Rowing Inland by Jim Daniels…

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A native of Detroit, Jim Daniels is the Thomas Stockham University Professor of English at Carnegie Mellon University.

The author of fifteen books of poetry, Daniel’s poems have been featured on Prairie Home Companion, Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac, in Billy Collins’ Poetry 180 anthologies, and in Ted Kooser’s American Life in Poetry series. He has received the Brittingham Prize for Poetry, the Blue Lynx Poetry Prize, and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts. His poems have appeared in the Pushcart Prize and Best American Poetry anthologies.

His most recent book of poetry, Rowing Inland, is publishing this February.

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first_choice_coverCUSTOMS

Impossible to get lost on the long, straight roads in/around/through Detroit, yet we tried, punks brash with stubborn loneliness, even in cars packed tight. From Six Mile Road out to—where did they stop?—32, 38 Mile Road? Each a mile apart, and the crossroads, Ryan, Dequindre, Mound, Van Dyke, all a mile apart. Driving those streets, like playing Dots and Boxes where you connect dots till whoever forms a box writes their initial inside. Inevitably, we traced boxes, driving our cranky, rusty beasts, turning right, left. We always knew where we were, that all the boxes were ours and none of them were, and so we could not write any initials—if we plunged down a side street, it was like holding our heads under water. In less than a mile or minute, we’d surface and know our exact location.

So the freeways drew us in, I-75, I-94, I-96, I-696—twisting over and under street grids, rivers fast and rivers dangerous, roaring with the rapids of our engines—whoosh/whoosh/whoosh—past each other, making wind in the night under the silent glow of the fixed stars lining pavement. And some reckless nights, we could end up on a bridge or in a tunnel and arrive in Canada to answer questions about who we were and where we were going.


SECOND SHIFT CLOSED THE BAR

putting the sea back together
after Moses parted it.
We closed the bar
like dogs done sniffing
each other’s butts.
We closed the bar
like eliminated game show contestants.
We closed the bar
like a rock and a hard place.
We closed the bar
like father, son, and Holy Ghost.
We closed the bar
like the rabbi, the priest, and the transvestite.
We closed the bar
like monkeys waving upside-down sale signs.
We closed the bar
our heads tilted back like we were inhaling stars.
We closed the bar
like bad report cards.
We closed the bar
like magicians pulling other magicians out of our hats.
We closed the bar
and the bartender was grateful.
We closed the bar
and night air smelled like church smoke.
We closed the bar
and gravel in the parking lot applauded.
We closed the bar
and the clock let down its guard.
We closed the bar
and the half-cocked moon nevertheless took away the keys.
We closed the bar
and we took credit where credit was morning dew.
We closed the bar
and sang the song “Remember the Time”
and made up all the words
and told each other they were true
and the refrain was our breathing,
visible in the cold, under floodlights,
and we rocked our way home
under vicious waves of lullaby.


CHRISTMAS DINNER, 2008

The third-generation furniture upholsterer
has a kink in his neck. He splurges on pizza
for his old friends. His wife burned
the cookies, but they’re on the table.

The GM draftsman on extended vacation
steals from the college fund and worries
his enormous weight into the bad back
of everything. Their church laid off the minister

then disbanded. The copywriter
who lost her hearing due to chemo
just laid off her staff. She falls asleep
before the pizza arrives.

The upholsterer weighs a move
into the garage versus bankruptcy
and his mad father who never saved
for retirement and his mad brother

out of prison again. Ho ho ho,
America! Cheers! The kids sit sober
on the couch, even the teenagers
half-getting the message

that we’re screwed. Nice couch,
one of them says. They eat
all the burned cookies.
 

This excerpt from Rowing Inland is published here courtesy of the author. All rights reserved.

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