David Baxley


In the Shadow of the Leeward Side

The weight of it
scrapes my bones clean.

I am thirty-eight traveling
with my seventy-eight-year-old father.

He hates the interstate
so we take backroads
to hide the wounded parts of ourselves.

He doesn’t wear a hearing aid
because he wants to keep the silence out.

I stare at every town east of Denver.
One Dollar General
and fields of corn
twisting in the wind.

Twisting the way I twisted as a boy
when he held me off the ground
so he could keep hitting
after threshing the strength
from my body.

We cross the country,
Utah to Ohio,
In a Toyota Tacoma.
Each split in weathered asphalt
threatens to spill the luggage
towering over us in the cab space.

When I was small
my mother would intercede
and intercept the fists
but she wasn’t here.

She wasn’t here
to intercede between
the acrimony of our silence.

She would spare me
when I had collapsed
like the boarded up main streets
of the towns vanishing behind us.

I was spared
the animosity of being tossed
into the corner where we kept our shoes.

I was spared
the sound of her begging
when he broke wedding vows across her face.

I was spared
the taste of his name in her throat
when his hands closed her windpipe.

I was spared
the sight of her head being pushed
through the sheet rock.

I was spared.
I was spared.
I was spared.
I repeat to myself
like the mile markers
that pass the dust encrusted windows.

I want to scream in his face,
push him from the truck,
and leave him rotting to ripen the harvest.

But I don’t.
I nod along to his jokes
and explanations
of how America’s veins have changed
over the last thirty years.

I can’t wait until he shuffles toward
a rest stop bathroom so I can smoke
cigarettes through yellow teeth
because I don’t want to disappoint him
with the burden of my addiction.

When I was a child I would thread
my avian limbs through the guts
of our home
playing at being Jacques Cousteau
or Captain Nemo.
I would hold my breath.

The way our home held its breath
when he would come in smelling of the road.

He drives the eighteen-hundred miles
by himself, seeks shelter when the way forward
is too dark, and my dirty nails
push crescent shaped stigmata
into the fruit of my palm-
my knuckles go white as stars.

Every town has a Dollar General
and fields of corn twisting in the wind.