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Tom Barlow

Tom Barlow is an Ohio writer of poetry, short stories and novels.  His work has appeared in journals including Trampoline, Ekphrastic Review, Voicemail Poetry, Hobart, Tenemos, Redivider, The New York Quarterly, The Modern Poetry Quarterly, and many more. See more at


Dad kept a photo in his cufflinks box
of the ’38 Buick Century with the straight eight
he bought from Uncle Buck after the war,
the one that caught fire between Cambridge

and Quaker City in ’46 and burned to the axles.
Sixty years later he would tell me about that car
like a kid who caught a Gehrig home run ball.
He’d go on about how the tires blew at least once

a month and snow packed in the wheel wells,
but the sharp paint job, the chrome and the leather
made him feel like a Vanderbilt as he
cruised past the glass works at shift change

when the men who were to die of silicosis
would look up from their lunch boxes
and Lucky Strikes to witness their reflection
in the polish. I suspect he felt the rest of his life

was a disappointment by comparison. As a child
I could never hold such a shine, not like
the Ward’s Silicone Glaze he so lovingly applied,
this in a mining town where he had to delicately

brush away the coal dust every morning
lest it scratch the finish. To this day I wonder
if his hands ever touched my mother that way.


Did Isaac’s legs burn under the weight
of the kindling / as he climbed Moriah,
the mountain hard as his father /
and his father’s father / just to build a fire /

while my old man ordered me to hand him
a box-end wrench and strike a match
for his cigarette / his hands still slick
with brake fluid / kneeling in the wheel well

of the ’58 Chevy that he cursed for its treason /
but he never blasphemed for fear some deity
might one day demand he pay for such crimes /
the old man knew obligation all right /

he lived to cultivate obligations / refused
to take them on himself / lest he end up
like Abraham and Sarah / indebted when
her dusty womb was filled with a miracle /

obliged to set a flame to their faith should their
insecure god demand the sacrifice / even if it
meant nothing more to him than the ashes
that hung from my old man’s cigarette

as he told me I would never learn how
to bleed a brake line / as though I was good
for little except honoring an obligation
should that become necessary / but Isaac /

as he stopped to rest / as he turned to look out
over Canaan / was not the sort of lad
to grab that wrench from his father’s hand
and smash it against the windshield / until

the mountain was strewn with glass pebbles /
the firewood tumbling all the way down
to land at his father’s feet.

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