Gothic American

Brad Efford

He lays the stylus into the slow-spinning record's shallow groove
with all the care of lowering his child down into her crib. He sings
a Johnny Cash song softly to her the whole way up the stairs

and across the otherwise quiet hall. In the family room, her mother
finally finishes the novel she's spent all winter getting through.
She bites the skin from her fingers absentminded as a sleeping bear

—the same bear whose eyelids tug with dreams of stalking rabbits
in the overgrowth of spring. The aluminum logs don't burn in the gas
fireplace; they jet blue flames from the spaces in between. The glass

front door is unlocked and the wind rattles playfully against it, A.M.
classical buzzing in the background like a moth trap. Snoring at her feet
is her aching old golden retriever, bristling his tail, chasing lazy bears

in his dreams. Upstairs, the woman's tiny daughter falls heavier
with every passing minute into the terror of a sleep deep as Hell split
into its flaming rings, the same ones the Man in Black sang of in 1963,

his life just beginning to spark into a pitch darker than the concert hall's
bright footlights he once kicked out with a size-10 wingtip in a fit
of desperation as if only to say, Here—I am here. The needle is so small

it might break in half each time the record skips it. He's put his tiny
daughter to bed and he kisses his wife on each wine-blushed cheek
before she takes a third glass with her up the long set of old aching

stairs and leaves him to his hi-fi, tinkering with the tarnished brass knobs
to make the noise come more right, static building evenly with the heavy
tumblers of quickly emptying whiskey, his fuzzy vision prisming.

Another year collects in the gaps the songs make in a labyrinth
on the wax—he blows against it, jumps the needle, barely flinches
at the scratch it makes, its ugly painful screech. Johnny Cash comes

through, mid-thought—bound by wild desire—before the power gives out.
Outside, the wind is a bellow. His wife is heavenly, only a dream,
and she calls his lonely name from the dark of the floor above.

Brad Efford was a finalist for Shenandoah's Graybeal-Gowen Prize for Virginia Poets in 2012. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Oxford Magazine, Juked, The Fiddleback, Monkeybicycle, and elsewhere. He holds an MFA from Hollins University and lives in Richmond, VA.

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