Jeff Worley

My father’s fingers worked
these keys, making the music
of invoices, lists of steel in stock,
notes of thanks to shop owners
in western Kansas who let him
buy them lunch again.
I slip a sheet of paper in
and the roller takes it.    
Dear Dad, I write,
I’d like to order a sheet of cold-
rolled steel, a few billets and slabs,
maybe even a bloom or two.  
When can I expect you
to come around?

Through this ancient ribbon
the letters are ghosts of themselves.  
The e is cracked, the m off center.  
I roll out my note, thinking
perhaps I’ll mail it to Eternity & Co
c/o The Cosmos, though I know
words have never brought anyone
wholly back. I crush the paper
into a ball and bank it in the corner
wastebasket. Whatever you do, Jeff—
are you listening to me?—don’t
spend your life trying to sell
some product hardly anybody wants.

I fold this poem and slip it into
the stamped envelope with the others.
Dad said I never did listen.

Author's Commentary: This is one of those poems which, I hope, provides its own context from the details presented. My father was a steel salesman whose territory included western and northern Kansas. As a boy I would occasionally go with him on his rounds, which was always interesting and memorable.

Jeff Worley, whose earliest poems were published in Roanoke Review, has poems in recent or current issues of Arts & Letters, River Styx, Atlanta Review, Rattle, Southern Poetry Review, and Gettysburg Review. His latest books are A Little Luck, which won the 2012 X.J. Kennedy Poetry Prize from Texas Review Press, and Driving Late to the Party: The Kansas Poems, from Woodley Press. He and his wife, Linda, divide their time between Lexington (Kentucky) and their cabin at Cave Run Lake, where poems have a habit of jumping out of the woods at him.


Jeff Worley in 1981, the year the  Roanoke Review  published one of his first poems. 

Jeff Worley in 1981, the year the Roanoke Review published one of his first poems.