After the Stroke

By David Bottoms b. 1949 David Bottoms
By the time he’d hit eighty, he was something out of Ovid,
his long beak thin and hooked,
                                            the fingers of one hand curled and stiff.
Still, he never flew. Only sat in his lawn chair by the highway,
waving a bum wing at passing cars.

I was a timid kid, easily spooked. And it seemed like touchy gods
were everywhere—in the horns
and roar of diesels, in thunder, wind, tree limbs thrashing
the windows at night.

I was ashamed to be afraid of my grandfather.
But the hair on his ears!
                                   The cackle in his throat!
Then on his birthday, my mother coaxed me into the yard.
I carried the cake with the one tiny candle

and sat it on a towel in the shade.
I tried not to tremble,
but it felt like gods were everywhere—in the grimy clouds
smothering the pine tops, the chainsaw
in Cantrell’s woods—everywhere, everywhere,
and from the look of the man
in the lawn chair, he’d pissed one off.

Source: Poetry (July/August 2009).


This poem originally appeared in the July/August 2009 issue of Poetry magazine

July/August 2009
 David  Bottoms


David Bottoms was born in Canton, Georgia in 1949. He earned an MA from the University of West Georgia and a PhD from Florida State University. In 1979, Bottoms won the prestigious Walt Whitman Award from the Academy of American Poets for his collection Shooting Rats at the Bibb County Dump. Robert Penn Warren, the contest’s judge, described Bottoms as “a strong poet, and much of his strength emerges from the fact that he is . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Living, Youth, Growing Old, Health & Illness, Relationships, Family & Ancestors

POET’S REGION U.S., Southern

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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