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June 19, 2015, I Remember Driving Through South Carolina,Twice,to Pick Up My Daughter on June 18, 2015


By evening I-85 south was a glossy tongue

and the churning clouds over

Greenville swallowed the sunset,

a collision of archetypal pain

and the lightning of the unknowable

facts, the near future. Suci’s fourteen and terrified

of weather, I think, because she thinks

it means what happens outside happens

inside, too. Or, vice versa. Weather

in a house can low-pressure and go lower

and people don’t really know how

low until it’s your own lightning

and facts and no one in the house can breathe;

people squall each other, unknowable,

and tornado the plaster walls away;

she’s watched some of that weather

happen and so it’s probably

my fault that she’s as scared as she is of the sky.


6 AM I drive alone through a sunrise-storm,

headed north near Anderson, a fog of tiny

twisters steams from the pavement and I aim

the car through NPR news of another racist

murder, this time worse, a massacre, really,

and the search for the shooter. My stupid shock.

I can’t believe I believe I can’t believe this.

I can’t believe I left a little brown girl, my daughter,

not two days ago, on the other side of South

Carolina, without a thought—a common-enough

thought in our family—of the day which is

every day when the room which is every room

becomes the room on the NPR morning

news and the stupidity of my shock lists itself

in all the eyes staring at all the shoes

and all the hands hanging at all the sides, the listless

-ness of people arriving too late, again.

The steam comes off this Southern road

like a fever and I finger my iPhone until McCoy

Tyner fingers the trilling behind Trane

and Garrison’s thumb threatens to blow out

the bass cones and, as much as it steams

like “Alabama,” I aim the car at the sound, “After the Rain.”


Sunčana clutches her pillow and distracts us

both tracing Justin Timberlake’s career

backward across the low ceiling of clouds.

The deluge begins, again, the sky opens

as it promised it would. The semis flash hazards

and everything everywhere crawls slower

and closer. ’N Sync scrolls across the Bluetooth

readout, Suci sings along and I think about

my friend Jeff ’s neighbor, Terry, a Harlem barber

gentrified off Lenox Avenue and now living

with his wife and kids in the Bronx. One night

last summer Terry told me how he loves

to visit his family in South Carolina. Yeah? Yeah,

it’s not like up here, man, down there, say

we go out to eat, I sit in the restaurant with my gun

on my hip. I look around me, another man,

even a police, and I think, ok, you’ve got yours

and I’ve got mine. Now I can’t see what I’m aiming

this car at, I can’t see four inches,

all the eighteen wheelers have dissolved,

red sponges blink and stream

up the windshield. I’ve got my daughter back

with me in this mad fact near the future,

where she should be, and now here we are at least

for a little while. I mean, yes, we’re scared

but we’re alright. Unarmed in this minute, this life.

And I see Terry nod his chin up, and smile,

his thick arm extended, palm up, onto

the table, showing his tattoo:

a precision clippers, an edger, cord coiled around his arm.

You know, he says, down there in South

Carolina, it’s in the open, it’s they got there’s I got mine. And I feel free.

from Let it Be BrokeFind more by Ed Pavlic at the library

Copyright © 2020 Ed Pavlic
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, LLC on behalf of Four Way Books.

Published in Ed Pavlic Poems

This program is supported in part by a grant from the Idaho Humanities Council, a State-based program of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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