Poem of the Week | May 30, 2022

This week’s Poem of the Week is “The World” by Kerry James Evans.

Kerry James Evans is the author of Bangalore (Copper Canyon). He lives in Milledgeville, Georgia, where he teaches in the MFA program at Georgia College & State University and serves as the poetry editor for Arts & Letters. Learn more at www.kerryjamesevans.com.


The World

My parents were married in the living room of my uncle’s trailer with me
in my mother’s womb. My mother, with her new license, loved Dolly Parton
              and roller skating.

She was sixteen. My father, eighteen, both scared out of their minds,
              ignorant of a world
beyond their high school districts—beyond “big towns” like Birmingham
              or Tuscaloosa—Roll Tide.

Shit. It was 1983. Trickle-down economics, cocaine and bull markets.
the US Embassy bombing in Beirut, 63 dead, the invasion of Grenada,
              the release

of Return of the Jedi, because Lord knows what this world needs
              is a robed brat
with father issues wielding a laser. What do I know? I was conceived
              in the back seat

of a ‘66 Ford Falcon—a car I restored in high school, now retired
              to a junkyard
in northern Virginia after two divorces and a suicide attempt,
              but who cares

about a car? A sophomore, my mother carried me into a school at full term
              and learned
how to look down, but who cares about how mean kids can be?
              What awful things

they said to her. My father would join the Air Force to
              get her out of there—
they would try to make it work, but fail to make it work. They were kids
              taking on the impossible.

I would attend eight schools K-12, reside in more than 27 domiciles,
              never once
calling one home—would learn friends is a name for people you must forget.
              Look at me now

—a 38 year-old revolver loaded in the glove box.
              Open it.
Look at my father’s hands around my neck. Look at his father’s hands
              around his.

Look how hungry I still am, how confused—how I am a country
              tearing itself
to pieces in a C-store parking lot. What do I even know? My poor mother
              still sixteen—

McDonald’s three, four times a week, no retirement, obese,
for a party controlled by billionaires—yet I call her once a week, tell her
              I love you, and I do.

I love my father, who can’t write a sentence, but commands troops
              in the Army—
who will retire any day now, and I love you, reader, who knows so little about me
              —who tries not to,

but can’t help but judge me for how I say these things so casually—
              how my drawl
reappears like azalea blossoms in spring, then poof!
              Gone with the first rain.


Author’s Note

This morning, reading James Schuyler’s The Morning of the Poem, I was drawn to his poem, “We Walk,” a short, bright burst of a poem that speaks—somewhat indirectly—to what I believe the speaker in “The World” is experiencing in his navigation of family history. Schuyler’s poem opens, “…in the garden. Sun / on the river / flashing past. I / dig icy leaves. / We walk in a / maze.”