Prest Street


It’s all uncles and cousins, proud black men
of urban banter in a small backyard,
car parts in a strange box that stains. I watched
those rough hands rummage
through pieces scattered about: grease-dirt,

and Pops pointed at the engine, the middle part, saying,
This is where it all happens, son, cigarette
in the corner of his mouth, death
in his body like a bad lung or DNA inscription,
an altering crave to an unhealthy consumption. But
who knew then how close the steep grave
was to the house that held his grief
like an invitational letter perfectly marginalized
with unfortunatelys.

Vise-grips, wrenches, screwdrivers.
Carburetors, pistons

—you mean
the Detroit pistons, I said.

Pops laughed
but remitted a smile knowing
a son should know about engines,
same as his own name, same as a maze
of a woman in summer
and the spell in her stare in winter.

I only knew the meaning of having
a father after I thought I didn’t, he appearing
—not coughing, but staggering reluctantly
with a 40-cal pistol, Army edition, pointing
and waving it in my direction.

Here is where you put the oil, and
he pulled up and up and up until the engine
released a sticky dripping blackness
he caught on a tissue,
blackness that could stain and discolor
concrete if he didn’t handle with caution.
There were things not worth handling
with all the care in the world.
Smoke escaped his nostrils as exhaust,
cough and backfire in metal, in bone.

As he tweaked a bolt
down inside the engine, far far down to where
you had to attentively feel to know, touch
sensual like an unlacing of a brassiere,
to loosen what couldn’t be seen,
he asked son to grab the oil pan
on top of the battery, next to the hammer,
and before I could realize, it was the bed pan
I placed under him, the machine
beeping against his troubled heartbeat
while we tried to see how far it had spread,
its blackness dripping in his body
like mild oil marks in his cell. We prayed.

Just roll, Pops, it’s almost over,
and we worked day and night
on the sickness.

Demetrius Buckley is the winner of the 2021 Toi Derricotte & Cornelius Eady Chapbook Prize, and his work has appeared or is forthcoming in PEN America, The Rumpus, Scalawag, Tahoma Review, The Offing, Southern Review, and elsewhere. He is a part of a writing program for incarcerated folks called the Empowerment Avenue. He is currently hopeful.
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